OSHA Wants Workers to Chill Out; Launches Campaign To Prevent Heat-Related Illness

May  7, 2012  3:01 PM, By Sandy Smith

As the weather heats up, so do OSHA’s outreach initiatives to educate workers and their employers about the hazards of working outdoors in hot weather. Each year, workers suffer injury and even death from exposure to too much sun and heat.

“For outdoor workers, ‘water, rest and shade’ are three words that can make the difference between life and death,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “If employers take reasonable precautions, and look out for their workers, we can beat the heat.”

Every year, thousands of workers across the country suffer from serious heat-related illnesses. If not quickly addressed, 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 can be cooled by sweating. Heat illness initially may manifest as heat rash or heat cramps, but quickly can become heat exhaustion and then heat stroke if simple prevention steps are not followed.

Federal OSHA worked closely with Cal-OSHA and adapted materials from that state’s successful campaign.

“It is 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,” said 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 the summer season, OSHA has developed heat illness educational materials in English and Spanish, as well as a curriculum to be used for workplace training. Additionally, a heat illness Web page provides information and resources– including how to prevent it and what to do in case of an emergency – for workers and employers.

OSHA also has released a free application for mobile devices that enables workers and supervisors to monitor the heat index at their work sites. The app displays a risk level for workers based on the heat index, as well as reminders about protective measures that should be taken at that risk level. Available for Android-based platforms and the iPhone, the app can be downloaded in both English and Spanish by visiting http://s.dol.gov/RI.

In developing last year’s inaugural national campaign, federal OSHA worked closely with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration and adapted materials from that state’s successful campaign. Additionally, OSHA is partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the second year to incorporate worker safety precautions when heat alerts are issued across the nation. NOAA also will include pertinent worker safety information on its heat watch Web page.