At the same time your crew members are wearing face coverings to slow the spread of the coronavirus, they could be at risk for another hazard: heat stress from laboring in the heat while wearing a cloth face covering.
Face coverings make it more difficult to breathe because the body has to work extra hard to pull the same amount of air into the lungs. That increases the heart rate and makes it more likely for someone to experience heat stress.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risks.
Instead of providing cloth face coverings to workers, give them face shields or surgical masks. Face shields offer a protective barrier without requiring the user to inhale air through any type of material. And it’s easier to breathe through surgical masks than through cloth coverings.
In addition, you can employ other approaches to lower the risks. For instance, strenuous tasks can be scheduled for the coolest parts of the day, employees can be provided with additional rest breaks and crews can be rotated more frequently during the most arduous job assignments.
Conduct a risk assessment for each job to figure out when it’s too hazardous to wear a mask in the high heat. In that case, you could use other controls, such as increased ventilation levels, the installation of physical barriers between workers, the staggering of shifts and more stringent hand hygiene requirements.
(From the July 20, 2020, issue of OSHA Compliance News. To download the rest of the issue right now, please click here.)