For employers and managers, summer is not just about welcoming college interns, onboarding seasonal workers, and juggling an influx of vacation requests; the warmer weather also means additional planning and management for outdoor work and activities. The summer of 2023 will be no different — though potentially more extreme. In April, DTN meteorologists shared during a U.S. Summer Outlook webinar that with the shift to El Niño, there is an urgency for human resources teams and managers to review and establish heat and storm protocols. Growing concern about rising temperatures and the frequency of severe pop-up storms means preparation for upcoming outdoor workspaces or managing teams at company events is critical.
With the shift to El Niño, there is an urgency for human resources teams and managers to review and establish heat and storm protocols.
This part of workforce planning takes additional time and attention during seasonal periods of extreme weather. Failing to do so can impact the bottom line — from reduced productivity to higher insurance costs. It’s also no surprise that by utilizing different strategies, including accurate, real-time weather data and alerting, HR teams, event planners, and work crew supervisors can better plan and make informed decisions to prepare and mitigate risks and protect employees.
WeatherSentry from DTN shows wet bulb globe and heat index or “feels like” temperatures. In this example, even when the forecast shows thunderstorms, wet bulb globe temperatures can be higher due to light winds, high dew points, and high humidity.
Know the wet bulb globe factor
Most people have heard of the heat index, but the oddly-named wet bulb globe temperature is an often overlooked critical number to know during hot days.
Meteorologist Jim Foerster explains, “The temperature and heat index alone are not enough to adequately plan for dangerously hot conditions. When extreme heat combines with high humidity, it becomes a potentially lethal situation as the body’s natural cooling mechanism does not function as efficiently.”
“When extreme heat combines with high humidity, it becomes a potentially lethal situation as the body’s natural cooling mechanism does not function as efficiently.”
The wet bulb globe temperature includes multiple factors: the temperature in direct sun, humidity, sun angle, wind speed, and cloud cover. Each of these factors plays a crucial role in determining the actual effect the temperature will have on those outside. When even one of those variables is missing when calculating the heat effect on the body, it puts people at a greater risk for heat issues.
Wet bulb globe temperature is a composite indicator used to determine the true impact of hot weather on people. The heat index only reflects the air temperature and relative humidity and is taken in the shade instead of in the sun.
It is apparent that those who work outside full time, such as landscapers, construction crews, and farmers, are at an elevated risk during extreme heat. But those who work outside for shorter periods are also at risk — and may be less prepared by thinking it is only a brief time in the sun. Every worker, from restaurant servers at outdoor patios to emergency responders, event crews, construction crews, and maintenance crews, should consider the wet bulb globe temperature over other types of heat measurement to assess accurate risk potential.
Be storm ready before the storm
During warm summer afternoons, pop-up thunderstorms can appear quickly and without warning. Although most aren’t severe, by definition, all thunderstorms contain lightning, making even small storms a hazard to workers outside.
“It is currently extremely challenging to predict exactly where a single thunderstorm will form,” Foerster warned. “On the days when these have the potential to form, keep a close eye on your weather radar.”
General safety guidelines include using a lightning plan. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) offers lightning advice for outdoor workers. Plans usually call for work and activities to be suspended and employees evacuated to a safe location when a lightning strike is detected within a 10-mile radius. An all-clear protocol is also important because electrical charges can linger in clouds after a thunderstorm has seemingly passed. Many employers follow a “30 minutes after the last thunder” protocol before resuming outdoor activities.
Evacuation locations should be predetermined before a weather event. Employers and managers should also consider the necessary actions and the amount of time needed to clear a worksite or event. For example, construction workers may require additional time to secure tools and equipment, like ladders, before taking shelter.
Weatherproofing the workforce
From cancellations to cooling stations, the management of employees who are outdoors in the summer months requires advance planning and flexibility. Some guidelines and resources below can help HR teams and those responsible for workers involved in outdoor occupations and activities keep employees safe and help minimize work disruptions.
- Know your local weather safety standards — there is no federal heat stress standard, but several states, including California, Washington, and Minnesota, have passed state-level heat standards that should be part of operation manuals and manager training. The Centers for Disease Control includes recommendations for employers on how to prevent heat-related illnesses, including using an acclimatization protocol, establishing a heat alert program, and providing heat stress training. OSHA’s standard on employee emergency action plans (EAP) covers escape procedures and routes, evacuation, and training of workers. The OSHA guidelines also require employers to conduct training with their employees — not only on general weather hazards but also on worksite-specific conditions.
From cancellations to cooling stations, the management of employees who are outdoors in the summer months requires advance planning and flexibility.
- Have weather monitoring and alerting solutions as part of your safety plans. WeatherSentry® from DTN is designed to help support decisions related to the safety of outdoor work and activities. Monitoring services that provide location-specific notifications sent directly to decision-makers are especially critical when workers are in multiple locations or out in the field.
- Determine risk thresholds ahead of outdoor work, such as wind gusts, lightning radius, and temperature, and verify the monitoring services includes these risks. Not every weather data provider reports on weather bulb globe temperatures.
Even with the best weather plans in place, constantly — and sometimes quickly — changing weather risks to outdoor workers are not going away. In fact, several studies indicate that the risks will increase, including more frequent extreme heat days. The solution is to weatherproof the workforce with flexible response plans that update with the weather risks. That starts with weatherproofing HR teams and decision-makers responsible for employee well-being by equipping them with the right tools and access to weather monitoring services.
Learn how WeatherSentry from DTN helps support decisions related to the safety of outdoor work and activities.