For large areas of the U.S., this summer has been one of the hottest on record. Many workers are able to cool off in air conditioned offices, but for those who work outdoors there is no relief from the sweltering heat. In an effort to prevent heat illness among workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched a new outreach campaign.
Heat illness is a serious health concern. According to OSHA, last year at least 30 workers died due to heat exposure on-the-job, and thousands more were sickened. In hot temperatures, particularly with high humidity, the body may be unable to sufficiently cool itself by sweating. Body temperatures can reach dangerous levels and workers may suffer heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. In serious cases heat stroke can lead to death.
Many types of workers may experience heat illness, especially those outdoors for long periods during the afternoon hours, those who wear heavy protective clothing and those doing manual labor. Examples of workers who may suffer heat illness include:
- Construction workers
- Farm workers
- Baggage handlers
- Mail delivery people
Employers have a duty to provide safe working conditions. To prevent heat illness the OSHA campaign asks employers and workers to focus on water, rest and shade. By taking frequent breaks in the shade and drinking sufficient fluids, workers can work to cool down their body temperatures. Workers should gradually build up to longer periods of work in hot conditions. OSHA also offers a smartphone app to calculate worksite heat indexes and accompanying risk. If a worker exhibits signs of heat illness it is important to get medical attention quickly.
Source: OSHA, "OSHA's Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers"