With daytime temperatures in some parts of the southwestern U.S. already reaching into the 90s, the Department of Labor (DOL) is calling on TV and radio meteorologists and weather forecasters to help spread the word about OSHA’s new campaign to prevent heat illness.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels took the unusual step of holding a teleconference with media representatives recently to help promote the campaign.
Solis pointed out that more than 30 workers died last year from heat-related illness. “Those deaths were completely preventable,” she said.
Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition in which the body is unable to cool itself and cannot produce sweat. Symptoms of heat stroke can include hot, red skin; a high fever, rapid pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and loss of consciousness.
People working in construction, agriculture, landscaping and road work are at greatest risk of suffering heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
“The campaign to prevent heat illness can be summed up simply by 3 words: “Water. Rest. Shade,” Solis noted.
She said that workers should drink water frequently in order to remain hydrated, and rest in the shade regularly. Workers must report symptoms when they occur, and everyone on a worksite should know what to do in the event of a heat-related health emergency.
A supervisor who observes a worker suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke should call 911 and quickly move the victim to a shaded area. Cooling methods (like spraying the person with cool water) should be used until emergency responders arrive.
Michaels said that OSHA would issue citations to any employers who failed to provide workers with the opportunity for water, rest and shade while performing outdoor work in hot conditions.
OSHA is also partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on weather service alerts. NOAA’s Heat Watch page now includes worker safety precautions when extreme heat alerts are issued.
OSHA’s website includes illustrated low-literacy fact sheets in English and Spanish that can be downloaded and used to teach workers about how to avoid heat-related illnesses.