OSHA: Biggest Risk Factor For Heat Deaths In The Workplace Is The Absence Of Acclimatization Programs

The most common problem identified in heat-related deaths and illness of workers is the lack of a heat prevention and acclimatization programs by their employer, according to federal safety investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

With temperatures soaring well into the 90s and the 100s, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is reminding employers to  protect workers that may be exposed to extreme heat while working outdoors or in hot indoor environments.

Each year, thousands of workers suffer the effects of heat exposure and, in some cases, die as a result. In 2014 alone, 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job.

“A review of heat related deaths revealed the majority of workers had just started the job, and frequently it was their first day on the job and the workers were not acclimated to the constant exposure to the heat and sun,” said Bonita Winingham, OSHA’s Acting Regional Administrator in Kansas City, Missouri.  “Heat-related illnesses can be fatal and are preventable when employers take a few simple steps to ensure workers safety and health.  Those steps include acclimating workers to the hot environments, frequent water breaks, allowing ample time to rest, and providing shade.  OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool App is available to employers, employees and the public for free download on iPhones and Android phones.”

Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit.  “Keep this in mind and plan additional precautions for construction employees working in these conditions,” Winingham said.

A common mistake is assuming that the worker is not at risk for heat stroke if they are still sweating.  “You can still be sweating and have heat stroke,” she said.  “A common symptom of heat stroke is mental changes, such as confusion or irritability.  Heat stroke is an emergency.  If there is any suggestion of heat stroke, call 911 and institute the other safety measures as quickly as possible.”

To learn more about heat stress symptoms see OSHA’s Heat Stress Quick Cardhttp://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3154.pdf

To prevent heat related illness and fatalities, OSHA offers the following safety tips:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you are not thirsty.
  • Rest in the shade to cool down.
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
  • Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency.
  • Keep an eye on fellow workers.
  • “Easy does it” on your first days of work in the heat. You need to get used to it.

The risk of heat stress increases for workers 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications.

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