Heat and Worker Safety: OSHA Campaigns for Safety
So far this year, Texans who work outside have been able to enjoy relatively mild springtime temperatures, but everyone knows what will be coming soon enough. At some point, summer will be here, and those workers who toil outside in the hot sun need to be protected.
Employers have an absolute duty to prevent heat illness, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), so the agency is reminding everyone of this fact, during their annual Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers.
According to OSHA, this is no small threat. In fact, it’s a significant threat to workers. There were 31 heat-related deaths in 2012, to go with more than 4,100 workers who suffered heat-related illnesses. That is why the workplace safety agency is embarking on this campaign for the fourth straight year. The goal is to make workers and employers more aware of the inherent dangers of working in and being exposed to the hot summer weather, as well as to provide everyone with sufficient guidance and resources to avoid or address the hazards of working in industries such as construction, oil and gas, transportation and landscaping.
One thing OSHA wants to do is to make workers aware of the symptoms of heat illness. Such illness usually occurs when labor-intensive activity increases body temperatures to a level that is too high to be properly cooled by sweat. It often starts with a heat rash or perhaps cramps, but it can fairly quickly morph into heat exhaustion, which is far more dangerous, or heat stroke, which is potentially deadly. Recognizing symptoms early can prevent workers from becoming sick.
Heat illness most often affects workers who have yet to build a tolerance to high temperature, so it is worthwhile for employers to start workers off slowly, and let them acclimate to the high temperatures. Acclimatization is something the body does to build in a greater tolerance to heat, and it is a very important aspect of preventing heat illnesses. In 74 percent of OSHA citations for heat illness, a lack of acclimatization was cited as the main cause.
To teach everyone what steps work best, OSHA has created a series of educational materials to be used in workplace training, a website, and even educational apps for Android and iPhone. Employers are charged with the ultimate responsibility to provide all workers with a workplace that is safe from recognized hazards, even if their workplace is outdoors.