Mason Alexander is managing partner of the Charlotte office of employment law firm Fisher & Phillips. He can be reached at (704) 334-4565 or www.laborlawyers.com.
As it gets closer to summer, any construction company that employs a significant number of outdoor workers needs to take this time to review its policies regarding the protection of those workers from the elements.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) has no specific regulations addressing employer responsibility for heat- and sun-related hazards. However, the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) rule does state that employers must provide both protective equipment and employee training to workers if they work under certain conditions. Sunlight and heat-common enemies in the construction industry-are included in these environmental hazards. PPE can include clothing that protects the eyes, face, head and extremities of an employee, as well as protective shields, barriers and shields.
Furthermore, at least one OSHA Standard Interpretation of PPE specifically requires employers to protect their employees from overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. OSHA is far less specific, however, on what constitutes overexposure, as sun exposure is not easily measured. An OSHA visit for non-compliance in this area is, therefore, very unlikely. What is of greater concern to an employer is the risk of costs associated with illness, absence and treatment for employees who fall victim to heat- or sun-related hazards. Furthermore, your company remains open to workers' compensation claims.
You can begin to protect your company from situations like those described above by adhering to the following suggestions:
- While removing outdoor jobs from sunlight is impractical in most cases, you do have control over when work shifts occur. You might be able to schedule shifts to maximize the hours worked before or after the peak sun times of the day, which occur between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.. You can also rotate workers in and out of non-shaded areas of the job site to avoid overexposure of any one group of employees, and provide shaded break areas.
- Require employees to use PPE. Protective eyewear-such as UV-resistant sunglasses-and hats with wide brims are recommended, as are lightweight long-sleeved shirts to protect against skin cancer factors. Additionally, all outdoor employees should wear a sunblock of at least 15 SPF and apply it at the beginning and middle of each shift. Provide training on use of these PPE.
- Finally, educate your employees on prevention and early detection. Inform them of the early signs of heat exhaustion, dehydration and skin cancer. Early detection can prevent almost all serious ailments.
Don't wait until the dog days of summer are upon us to employ preventative measures. Review and revise your current policy now, so that as spring turns into summer you can educate your workers and avoid heat-related incidents on your construction sites.
Construction Business Owner, April 2010