Federal investigators have cited an Indiana landscaping company in the death of a 23-year-old ground crewman who died after being hospitalized with a core body temperature above 108 degrees. OSHA investigators determined the employee collapsed after working more than nine hours in the direct sun when the heat index soared to 110 degrees near Poplar Bluff on July 22, 2016. His is one of 16 heat-related deaths reported to the OSHA since January 2016.
On Sept. 20, 2016, OSHA issued his employer Townsend Tree Service Company LLC of Muncie, Indiana, one serious citation following its investigation. Proposed penalties are $12,471.
Full sunlight increases the risk
"Heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable when employers help workers acclimate to hot environments, allow frequent water breaks, ample time to rest and provide shade," said Bill McDonald, OSHA's area director in St. Louis. "Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Employers must keep this in mind and plan additional precautions for working in these conditions."
The agency has found a lack of heat prevention and acclimatization programs by employers commonly lead to heat-related deaths and illness among workers.
Not used to it
"A review of heat-related deaths across industries finds most workers were new to the job and not physically used to the constant heat and sun exposure," said Bonita Winingham, OSHA's Acting Regional Administrator in Kansas City. "While the fall season may lower outdoor temperatures, employers and employees alike must remember that those working indoors in factories, bakeries and other heated environments are at-risk of heat-related illness."
How to keep workers safe
In addition to acclimating workers to heat conditions OSHA also recommends employers:
- Train supervisors and other employees in the proper response to employees reporting heat-induced illness symptoms, which includes stopping work, moving to a cool place, and providing help, evaluation and medical assistance.
- Require trained supervisors to go into the field and conduct in-person evaluations of employees complaining of heat-induced symptoms.
- Establish work rules and practices that encourage employees to seek assistance and evaluation when experiencing heat stress symptoms.
Commonly, people believe mistakenly that if they are sweating, they are not in danger of heat stroke. In fact, sweating is no indication that heat stroke is possible. One frequent symptom of heat stroke is mental changes, such as confusion or irritability. Heat stroke is a medical 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 Card http://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3154.pdf
OSHA's Heat Safety Tool App is available to employers, employees and the public for free download on iPhones and Android phones.