[UPDATE] In June, OSHA released safety tips and others to keep outdoor workers (including agricultural workers) safe from the heat while on the job. After a 30-year-old oil field worker died June 30 near Great Bend, Kansas, and in light of this week's Midwestern heat wave, the agency is doubling down on its efforts to educate about the potential danger of heat stroke, heat exhaustion and other related illnesses.
“Heat-related illnesses can be fatal, and employers are responsible for keeping workers safe,” says Marcia Drumm, OSHA’s Regional Administrator in Kansas City, Missouri. “Employers can take a few easy steps to save lives, including scheduling frequent water breaks, providing shade and allowing ample time to rest.”
According to The Weather Channel, the forecast calls for daily high temperatures through this weekend to range mid to upper 90s in large portions of the Great Plains, Midwest and South U.S. Heat indexes in these areas will routinely exceed 100 degrees.
Excessive heat kills about 36 people every year and causes thousands of days off due to heat-related illnesses. It is a silent killer that most often affects males (69%), and the most at-risk industries include agriculture and landscaping.
That has prompted OSHA, the National Weather Service and others to keep their awareness campaign about dangerous heat going full steam ahead.
“We believe we’re making an impact, but we don’t want to let up,” says David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health. “Even one heat-related fatality is too many. Each of these deaths is preventable.”
OSHA’s safety campaign is centered around a three-prong set of advice: water, rest and shade. While heat warnings have traditionally been aimed at children, seniors and pets, Michaels says it’s equally important for outdoor laborers to stay hydrated and take breaks when the summer swelter kicks in.
“These precautions can be the difference between life and death,” he says.
Preventive measures are important, but it’s equally critical to spot the early signs of heat stroke and other heat-induced illnesses, says Laura Furgione, deputy director of the National Weather Service.
“Heat is a silent killer,” she says. “People often don’t realize they’re in trouble.”
Signs of heat exhaustion include:
- Sweaty skin
- Fast heartbeat
Signs of a more serious heat stroke include:
- Red, hot, dry skin
- High body temperature
Most heatstroke deaths occur during the first few days on the job, Michaels says. Bodies need time to adapt to new working conditions, even if it’s not the first time they have done so, he says.
Among OSHA’s newer heat-illness resources is a free app for both Apple and Android devices, OSHA Heat Safety Tool. The app has built-in reference tools that share symptoms and first aid protocol for heat-related illnesses, and it calculates heat index value and risk level based on temperature and humidity readings.
For more information on preventing heat-related illnesses, visit www.osha.gov.