This blog post can also be found on our Coronavirus Resource Center.
Many companies as well as Federal and local guidelines require the use of face coverings and other PPE as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. Some industry specific guidance from the CDC is also recommending the removal of local station fans which blow air from one employee toward other employees. This combination of hazards is somewhat unique to this pandemic and year and deserves a closer look. While the non-N95 respirator face coverings tend to have a minimal effect on breathing, they do have some effect on airflow and temperature. Some employees may find this difficult to deal with.
Add to the above the upcoming summer heat, plus any heat sources that are a part of the job, and the fact that some non-essential workers are returning to work in a deconditioned state, and a heat hazard may start to surface.
How to Reduce the Risk of Heat Illness from Coronavirus PPE and Regulations
Some employers will undoubtedly face this new heat hazard unique to the COVID-19 pandemic. To help reduce this new risk, consider the following:
Measure temperatures in your facility. Remember that using a wet bulb globe thermometer is OSHA’s preferred method of measuring. It helps to account for humidity and air movement.
Keep an eye on recommendations from NIOSH or NOAA. NIOSH and OSHA created the heat safety mobile app for workers to determine heat index values based on temperature and humidity. You can also reference NOAA’s heat index chart.
Have a full understanding of how different types of clothing and PPE can compound heat issues. See OSHA’s guidelines on heat hazard recognition for more.
Account for the type of workload in your risk assessment. OSHA’s heat hazard recognition points out that “heavy and very heavy work carry the highest risk of heat-related illness.”
Bring employees back to full schedule gradually. Allow them to acclimate to the heat and work load.
Increase the frequency and length of breaks. This is especially important as employees re-acclimate. Provide cool water in single-use containers. Do not restrict access if at all possible.
Cooling bandanas, ice vests, and similar items can be used. Consider the overall effect of air flow. Don’t remove the personal cooling devices in a facility without maximizing air flow using the main systems.
For more information about managing the effects of heat, check out these resources. For a more personal assessment, reach out to your account manager.
- Fed OSHA heat stress page
- Heat hazard recognition categories including work levels and cut offs of WBGT temperatures and work type and clothing adjustment factors for PPE and clothing type.
- NIOSH app announcement
- NOAA heat index chart
- https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/meat-poultry-processing-workers-employers.html – COVID-19 reference outlining removal of some personal fans.