With much of the country in line for more high temperatures, employers should be mindful of employee exposures to heat hazards on their job. While OSHA has no heat standard the agency has become increasingly willing to cite employee exposures under Section 5(A)(1) of the OSHA Act, the general duty clause.
Unfortunately, many of these citations result following fatal or life threatening exposures to employees. Examples of such cases include the following:
- In one such case an employee of a planing mill was observed by co-workers to be walking and acting in a strange manner. He lost consciousness and emergency help was summoned. Resuscitative measures were taken and the employee was transferred to a medical center where he died.
- A second case involved a construction job and a masonry laborer working in a temperature exceeding 91 degrees without any protective measures being taken.
- An employee working in a sawmill was pulling through cut lumber from a green chain when he became dizzy and started to stagger. His supervisor ordered a break but upon returning to work, the employee began to stagger again and fainted. He was rushed to the hospital where he arrived unconscious with a temperature of 108 degrees. Upon being transported to a major hospital, he died without regaining consciousness.
- In another case a 31 year old construction worker had been leveling gravel and installing forms for a swimming pool in extreme heat and had to be air- lifted to a trauma center and was later pronounced dead.
In July 2013, Assistant Secretary of Labor, David Michaels, held a press conference and asked for help for his Agency’s heat stress awareness campaign. Michaels noted 5 key pieces of advice in addressing this occupational hazard:
- Drink water every 15 minutes whether you are thirsty or not.
- Rest in the shade to cool down.
- Wear a hat and light colored clothing.
- Learn the signs of heat stress and what to do in an emergency.
- Keep an eye on fellow workers.