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June 20, 2024

How To Protect Your Employees From Extreme Heat

Key takeaways from Protecting Employees From Extreme Heat, the first of three summer seminars hosted by the National Commission on Climate and Workforce Health.

How To Protect Your Employees From Extreme Heat

On June 12, 2024, the National Commission on Climate and Workforce Health kicked off its summer seminar series with Protecting Employees from Extreme Heat, a live discussion featuring climate, business, and health experts who shared ways to assess risk, protect employees, and adapt operations ahead of what is expected to be one of the hottest summers on record.

During the event, the commission also announced the release of two new resources to help employers protect their workforce from the health hazards of extreme heat:

"Protecting Your Employees From Extreme Heat" provides easy-to-follow strategies for implementing a heat stress management program in your workplace.

"Protecting Yourself From Extreme Heat" is a tip sheet for employees, packed with practical advice on staying safe, hydrated and vigilant in extreme heat.

You can access both tip sheets here.

Did you miss the seminar? Read on for a recap of the highlights. You can watch the full recording below.

Keynote Conversation Snapshot: Climate-Related Health Risks

Health Action Alliance Co-Founder and Co-CEO Steven Levine interviewed Tracy Watts, Senior Partner for Healthcare Policy at Mercer, about what employers can do to recognize heat-related risks and safeguard their workforce.

Key Insights

  • In a recent survey, Mercer asked employers if their employees had been impacted by extreme heat in the past two years, and nearly 80% said yes. 
  • Only 3% of the employers surveyed are conducting vulnerability assessments to understand which employees are most at risk.
  • Last year, over 2,300 people in the United States died due to effects of extreme heat — a high in 45 years of recorded history. However, doctors, public health experts, and meteorologists estimate the actual toll is much higher.

Insight Spotlight

"Let's do everything we can to get out in front of this. It really does matter – and everything we are doing can, and will, make a difference." –Tracy Watts, Senior Partner for Healthcare Policy, Mercer

Take-Away Tactics

  • Assess climate-related risks based on the location(s) of your workforce.
  • Look at metrics like heat index, which combines air temperature and relative humidity to estimate how hot it feels outside.
  • Consider where your workers live, how they get to and from work, and if the weather could negatively impact their health and safety when they are not at work.
Download Protecting Against Extreme Heat tip sheets for employers and workers

Panel Snapshot: Protecting Employees from Extreme Heat

In this discussion moderated by Rachelle Reyes Wenger, the System Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy Engagement for CommonSpirit Health, panelists detailed the health dangers posed by extreme heat and made recommendations for safeguarding workers. Panelists included: 

  • Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association
  • Jane Gilbert, Chief Heat Officer for Miami-Dade County
  • Kyle Hubregtse, CEO of Kenzen

Key Insights

  • Jane Gilbert explained that factors that contribute to extreme heat include: 
    • Temperature
    • Humidity
    • Solar radiance
    • Wind
    • Temperatures that a person is used to
    • Preexisting conditions
  • Dr. Georges Benjamin pointed out that monitoring heat spikes is important regardless of your region; if you are used to a baseline of 80°F summers, an increase to 85°F or 90°F degrees coupled with more moisture can make a huge difference.
  • Dr. Benjamin noted that it takes the body about a week to acclimate to heat. If you go out on a hotter day than you’re used to, your body won’t be able to cool itself effectively. 
  • Kyle Hubregtse emphasized that heat sneaks up on people. When they begin to feel the heat or become symptomatic, it’s too late to prevent heat illness. It’s important to be proactive and avoid getting to the point of experiencing heat illness symptoms. 
  • Both Hubregtse and Dr. Benjamin referenced the quote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” to underscore the importance of prevention planning. 

Insight Spotlight

"I can't emphasize enough the importance of an acclimatization protocol. Making sure new employees…are given extra break time, extra training, [because] 70% of heat-related deaths on the job are in their first week of employment." –Jane Gilbert, Chief Heat Officer for Miami-Dade County

Take-Away Tactics

Panelists shared multiple strategies for protecting your workforce in extreme heat, including: 

  • Have a specific plan for new employees’ first week on the job to ensure they are acclimatized, familiar with company protocol, and know how to address heat illness symptoms. Acknowledge that staying safe doesn’t deter employees' success. 
  • One size does not fit all for heat safety plans across companies or even across your workforce. It’s important to take into account your company’s unique circumstances and the various ways employees experience heat stress throughout the day. 
  • Don’t wait to implement basic precautions while you develop a larger-scale, customized heat safety plan. Make sure your workers have access to water and a place for shaded or cool rest breaks while you’re developing the plan. 
  • Consult employees and managers when putting together heat safety policies, as they often have great solutions to propose. 
  • You can enhance productivity by giving workers breaks to rest and hydrate throughout the day. Miami-Dade County recently introduced an electrolyte policy allowing all departments to provide their workers with electrolytic drinks as needed.

Resource Roundup

New Climate and Health Newsletter

Stay informed on the latest initiatives, insights, and recommendations from the National Commission on Climate and Workforce Health by signing up for our newsletter. Subscribe here.

Mark Your Calendars

Register for the Climate & Workforce Health 2024 Summer Seminary Series
  • July 24, 1 p.m.-1:45 p.m. ET Climate & Workforce Health: Fortifying Workers Against Smoke and Smog. Register here.
  • Aug. 21, 1 p.m.-1:45 p.m. ET, Climate & Workforce Health: Nurturing Resilience in the Face of Eco-Anxiety. Register here.

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