On July 7, 2020, Tim Barber collapsed and died from heat illness on his second day of work at an upstate Western New York construction site. OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Campaign teamed up with the OSHA Region 2, Buffalo Area Office to produce an awareness video on heat illness prevention. Watch: Remembering Tim Barber: A life lost to heat illness at work.
OSHA has launched a National Emphasis Program to protect millions of workers from heat illness and injuries. Through the program, OSHA will conduct heat-related workplace inspections before workers suffer completely preventable injuries, illnesses or, even worse, fatalities.
“Tragically, the three-year average of workplace deaths caused by heat has doubled since the early 1990s. These extreme heat hazards aren’t limited to outdoor occupations, the seasons or geography. From farm workers in California to construction workers in Texas and warehouse workers in Pennsylvania, heat illness – exacerbated by our climate’s rising temperatures – presents a growing hazard for millions of workers,” said Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. “This enforcement program is another step towards our goal of a federal heat standard.”
Hazardous heat exposure can occur indoors or outdoors and can occur during any season if the conditions are right, not only during heat waves. Occupational risk factors for heat illness include heavy physical activity, warm or hot environmental conditions, lack of acclimatization, and wearing clothing that holds in body heat.
Construction, especially road work, roofing and any other outdoor work has been listed as an industry where workers have suffered heat-related illnesses and where OSHA will focus.
As part of the National Emphasis Program, OSHA will initiate inspections in over 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or advisory for a local area. On days when the heat index is 80 F or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists will engage in outreach and technical assistance to help keep workers safe on the job. Inspectors will look for and address heat hazards during inspections, regardless of whether the industry is targeted in the NEP.
Heat-Related Illness: Know The Signs
It’s important to know the signs of heat-related illness—acting quickly can prevent more serious medical conditions and may even save lives. If an employee has symptoms of heat-related illness, a supervisor should be notified immediately. If able to, move the person to a shaded area loosen his/her clothing, give him/her water (a little at a time), and cool him/her down with ice packs or cool water.
- Heat Stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include: confusion, fainting, seizures, very high body temperature and hot, dry skin or profuse sweating. CALL 911 if a worker shows signs of heat stroke.
- Heat Exhaustion is also a serious illness. Symptoms include: headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst and heavy sweating. Heat fatigue, and heat rash are less serious, but they are still signs of too much heat exposure.
To Prevent Heat Illness:
Nearly 3 out of 4 heat illness fatalities happen during the first week of work. New and returning workers need to build tolerance to heat by taking frequent breaks and working shorter shifts in the heat to start. Dangerous heat exposure can occur indoors or outdoors, in any season. Ensure that your employees take “it easy” on the first days of work and take time to get used to the heat and build up a tolerance. If a worker has not worked in hot weather for a week or more, their body needs time to adjust.
Follow the 20% Rule — on the 1st day, don’t allow employees to work more than 20% of a shift at full intensity in the heat. Increase their time by no more than 20% a day until they are used to working in the heat.
Provide cool drinking water – encourage workers to drink at least one cup every 20 minutes, even if they are not thirsty.
Rest breaks — allow workers time to recover from heat in a shady or cool location.
Dress for the heat — have workers wear a hat and light-colored, loose fitting, breathable clothing if possible.
Watch out for each other — encourage workers to monitor themselves and others for signs of heat illness.
Look for any signs of heat illness, including fainting, dizziness, nausea, and muscle spasms, and act quickly — when in doubt, call 911.
Offer training on the hazards of heat exposure and how to prevent illness.
Develop an Emergency Plan on what to do if a worker shows signs of heat-related illness.
More resources are available on OSHA’s website in English and Spanish and there is even an app to download to your phone to calculate the heat index and provide recommendations based on your risk level.
Check out www.osha.gov/heat for training and other educational resources.
Susan Grier Fahmy, CSP, is Vice President, Director of Safety & Health Services at Lovell Safety Management Co., LLC. You may contact Lovell Safety Management at 1-800-5-LOVELL or visit online at www.LovellSafety.com.