What questions should you ask before buying a cooling towel?
While it may not be the first item that comes to mind as essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a cooling towel can play a crucial role in ensuring the health and safety of workers in high-heat environments. Before you make the call on which cooling towel is right for your job, there are a few factors to consider and questions to ask.
Why is PPE specific for high heat conditions so important?
According to OSHA, 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job in 2014. The chances of someone having a heat-related injury dramatically increase in hot weather, especially in industries that require working outdoors.
Occupations that require heavy lifting or physical exertion, such as construction or utilities, have an increased risk of heat-related injuries among workers required to use extensive or bulky Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Other work environments at risk for high heat incidents include job sites using transport vehicles and equipment that produce extensive heat as a part of normal operations. Workers in these conditions benefit from PPE specific to addressing high heat situations, such as a quality cooling towel.
Is providing a cooling towel an employer's responsibility?
Although the U.S. Department of Labor does not have a specific standard for compliance that covers working in the heat, all employers have a duty to provide the safest environment possible and to protect workers from hazards in the workplace. Using the OSHA-recommended heat index chart helps employers determine when precautions are necessary to prevent heat-related illness and injury (learn more in Workers and Heat Stress: What You Need to Know).
Workers under higher temperature conditions (higher than 91 degrees is considered a moderate risk level) might be expected and directed to take certain precautions to avoid heat related incidents, such as taking regular breaks in the shade, moving away from the heat site, and drinking water regularly, regardless of whether they feel thirsty or overheated (other recommendations can be found in Beating the Heat).
Under normal conditions, the human body creates sweat that provides cooling through evaporation. A cooling towel can provide additional protection from heat-related injury, particularly one with evaporative properties that enhances the natural cooling process of the body. This is a wise investment for employers to help protect their workers from high heat incidents, especially because several other heat precautions are behavior based and therefore more difficult to monitor than ensuring each of your workers has a cooling towel.
What features/benefits of a cooling towel should employers look for?
A cooling towel should be durable and use the latest technology that accelerates the evaporative cooling process. It should be easy to use and provide relief for hours, not just a few minutes. Ideally, the cooling towel should be reusable to provide relief for longer periods on the job site and cut down on the costs related to this type of PPE. The towel should fit snugly but not too tightly.
Be sure to look for a towel that doesn't require refrigeration or ice to activate its cooling process. These are easier to use than those that do.
Finally, the cooling towel should be lightweight and feature anti-microbial fabric or materials so that germs do not accumulate on the towel from repeated use. Anti-microbial fabric and materials also help prevent the cooling towel from retaining bad smells from perspiration and dirt.
A cooling towel, when used together with other PPE designed to provide extra comfort and protection for workers in high heat environments, can be an important part of an overall and comprehensive health and safety plan for hot environments.
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