When it comes to outdoor workers, “water, rest and shade” can literally make the difference between life and death. Every year, thousands of workers nationwide suffer from serious heat-related illnesses. If not addressed quickly, heat exhaustion can become heat stroke, which has killed — on average — more than 30 workers annually since 2003. Labor-intensive activities in hot weather can raise body temperatures beyond the level that normally can be cooled by sweating. Heat illness might first manifest itself as heat rash or heat cramps, but can quickly turn into heat exhaustion, and then heat stroke, unless workers follow basic preventive measures.
“It’s essential for workers and employers to take proactive steps to stay safe in extreme heat, and become aware of symptoms of heat exhaustion before they get worse,” says Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. “Agriculture workers; building, road and other construction workers; utility workers; baggage handlers; roofers; landscapers; and others who work outside are all at risk. Drinking plenty of water and taking frequent breaks in cool, shaded areas are incredibly important in the hot summer months.”
In preparation for summer, OSHA has developed heat illness educational materials in English and Spanish, as well as a curriculum for workplace training. Additionally, a Web page provides information and resources on heat illness — including how to prevent it and what to do in case of an emergency — for workers and employers. The page is available here.
OSHA also has released a free application for mobile devices (both Android-based platforms and the iPhone) in English and Spanish that workers and supervisors can use to monitor the “heat index” at their work sites. This app displays a risk level for workers based on the index, as well as reminders about protective measures to take at that risk level. You can download the app here.
NOAA also includes pertinent worker safety information on its heat watch Web page.