“Heat can kill,” warned the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, David Michaels, as he kicked off the agency’s summer campaign raising awareness of heat-related illnesses. “Dozens of workers die from heat exposure every year. Every heat-related death we investigate was preventable.”
Climate scientists announced May 2016 was the 13th consecutive warmest month on record. On the ground, that means workers need to know how to stay safe while working in extreme heat.
Each year, over 200 workers are hospitalized while working in hot conditions and in 2014 alone more than 2,600 reported suffering from heat stroke or exhaustion.
“Sometimes workers are unable to realize that they’re suffering through a heat-related illness,” IBEW Director of Safety and Health David Mullen said. “When they finally realize it, it’s too late.”
OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Campaign aims to remind workers to drink water every 15 minutes and rest in the shade to cool down.
Symptoms of heat stroke include red, hot and dry skin, high body temperature, confusion and body convulsions. Indicators for heat exhaustion include dizziness, headaches, weakness, cramps and nausea.
“When you can identify the symptoms, you’re not only keeping yourself safe, you’re keeping all of your co-workers safe.” Mullen said.
These warning signs can afflict anyone who works in extreme heat, with the most at risk group being new workers.
“Fatalities most often occur to workers that have been on the job only a few days or less,” Michaels said, because it takes time to become acclimated to work environments.
Those working outdoors, in spaces where temperatures are not regulated and around hot machinery are most susceptible, though workers who frequently move between hot and cool environments can experience the adverse effects of heat as well.
The IBEW’s Safety and Health webpage, ibew.org/Safety-Health, contains a list of ways to protect members from heat-related illness. OSHA’s water-rest-shade campaign site, osha.gov/heat, also offers information along with training modules and worksite posters. The site also contains a Heat Safety Tool app for the Android and iOS platforms, which calculates the heat index for individual worksites and displays a risk level to outdoor workers.
Every heat related death is preventable. Stay safe this summer by arming yourself with the knowledge to prevent heat-related illnesses.