Summer can mean fun in the sun for many, but whenever there is excessive heat, outdoor workers are at risk for heat-related illness and even death.
Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill while working in hot outdoor environments. Construction workers make up about one-third of heat-related worker deaths, but outdoor workers in every industry − including agriculture, landscaping, transportation, and oil and gas operations − are susceptible to the dangers of heat.
Just last September, 41-year-old Avery Haas died after working four hours on a crew re-roofing an apartment complex in Urbana, Illinois. Temperatures that day reached 90 degrees, with a heat index in excess of 100 degrees. The crew was working in full sunlight, which increased the effective temperature to approximately 105 degrees. During their lunch break, coworkers noticed that Avery’s speech was altered and he became increasingly disoriented, exhibiting irregular motor control. Avery’s coworkers transported him to a nearby hospital where he died of complications related to heat stroke.
Avery’s employer did not have an adequate heat illness prevention program and did not ensure that workers were getting enough water, rest and shade. The employer also failed to train workers about ways to prevent heat illness. Avery Haas’ death and all heat-related tragedies are preventable. That’s why OSHA conducts a nationwide heat awareness campaign every year.
To prevent heat-related illness and death, employers should ensure that workers:
Are allowed water breaks every 15 minutes
Rest in the shade or air conditioning to cool down
Wear a hat and light-colored clothing
Know heat illness signs and symptoms
Report symptoms early and watch out for coworkers
Know what to do in an emergency
Gradually build up their heat tolerance using an acclimatization process
OSHA has resources available in English and Spanish to help keep workers safe this summer. And our smartphone app, the OSHA Heat Safety Tool, gives users vital safety information when and where they need it − right on their mobile phones. This app, available for iPhone and Android devices, has now been downloaded more than 220,000 times.
Remember − water, rest and shade could mean the difference between life and death on the job. Keep workers safe and healthy this summer by following these simple but important tips.
Heather Martin is a safety and occupational health specialist.