Researchers at the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) at the University of Connecticut worked with an interdisciplinary team to craft a comprehensive consensus document of feasible, evidence-based occupational heat safety recommendations as part of a new branch of KSI — the National Heat Safety Coalition (NHSC).
The interdisciplinary team was comprised of 51 researchers, doctors, industry leaders, representatives from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the U.S. military.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 11 workers are seriously injured or die daily from heat stress. Farmworkers die from heat-related illness or injury at a rate 20 times greater than that of the entire U.S. civilian workforce. Many other industrial sectors, such as construction, fire service, landscaping, electrical utilities, and manufacturing are also at a heightened risk for succumbing to potentially lethal heat-related illnesses on the job. The average cost per heat prostration incident is nearly $54,000, which exceeds costs associated with a laceration.
Despite the scope of this problem, there are currently no federal standards for preventing heat-related illness. As a result, the newly formed coalition of researchers and businesses believe the creation of the consensus document comprised of feasible, evidence-based occupational heat safety recommendations was critical to protect the health and safety of workers.
The experts who helped assemble this document scored each of the proposed recommendations based on scientific evidence supporting its implementation and feasibility for its application in diverse industry settings.
The recommendations focus on protecting worker health and safety while addressing employers’ concerns about potential losses in productivity.
This document is part of a larger partnership effort in which KSI is coming together with industry leaders MISSION and Magid to form a new division of KSI – the National Heat Safety Coalition (NHSC). MISSION, a long-time partner of KSI, creates novel instant cooling gear to allow individuals to remain safely active in hot conditions. Magid is an industry leader in personal protective equipment and safety innovations.
By including industry partners in the process of crafting these recommendations, the research team benefitted from their insider knowledge of what is and is not realistic for the kinds of workspaces that can benefit from this guidance.
This first-of-its-kind coalition will bridge the offerings of KSI’s world-class researchers with their industry partners’ expertise to reduce the incidence of heat-related injuries and illnesses in the workforce.
“Heat stress is a constant concern for laborers who are called on to work in hot conditions,” says Douglas Casa, chief executive officer of the Korey Stringer Institute and professor of kinesiology in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. “The formation of these recommendations will help develop better heat safety standards such as hydration, body cooling, and work to rest ratios, which is an important part of our commitment to keeping laborers safe.”
The consensus document covers eight key safety areas: heat hygiene, hydration, heat acclimatization, environmental monitoring, physiological monitoring, body cooling, textiles and personal protective gear, and emergency action plan implementation.
Each section contains individual recommendations. These recommendations were scored by each of the experts according to the Delphi Method, which is a comprehensive and systematic process to form consensus. The original proposed recommendations received three rounds of scoring based on the scientific evidence, feasibility, and clarity prior to being accepted into the document.
These recommendations include prioritizing fluid delivery to prevent dehydration, taking environmental measurements as close to the actual work site as possible to ensure these measures accurately reflect working conditions, having a designated rest, cooling, and hydration center on-site, and making sure workers have an emergency action plan in place in case they experience a medical emergency like exertional heat stroke.
This document will serve as a comprehensive foundation for future, more focused recommendations for individual industries. By prioritizing clarity and feasibility, these recommendations will be easy for any industry to implement.
The NHSC will help translate UConn’s research into practice in other arenas. Magid and MISSION’s industry know-how will help researchers at KSI ensure their recommendations are accessible and feasible for employers and supervisors in charge of implementing heat safety initiatives.
The NHSC will focus on conducting heat safety research as well as raising awareness about this issue and educating employers and employees through their website, on-site assessments, and trainings.
“This partnership will expand the reach of KSI with the help of industry leaders,” NHSC president Margaret Morrissey says. “We hope to provide evidence-based heat safety solutions that keep workers safe and drive productivity in the workplace.”
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