Extreme Heat Leads to Workplace Deaths and Injuries

Most individuals across the United States would agree that the summer of 2012 was one of the warmest in recent memory. Temperatures soared well above averages in various cities across the country. Because the summer season garners most of the construction work for the year, this past summer, thousands of employees were forced to work under the burning sun.

Because recording-breaking heat can compromise the wellbeing of outdoor employees, health and public safety advocates are asking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a rule protecting construction and other outdoor workers from extreme temperatures. The major concern is the rising number of heat-related deaths and injuries - many of which were a product of this past summer season.

Public Citizen's Health Research Group reports that over the past two decades, 563 workers died and 46,000 suffered serious harm from heat-related problems.

Workers among the farming and construction industries work for long periods of time with no breaks or accommodations. Advocates want OSHA to mandate resting breaks in proportion to the temperature outside. Furthermore, safety and health groups believe employers should frequently provide outside employees with sufficient amounts of water throughout the working day.

This same issue came up in the past. In 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended a heat standard; however, the standard was never put into practice.

Working in the Heat: Advocates Petition for Heat Standard

Recently, United Electrical Workers, Public Citizen and Farmworker Justice issued a petition, which asked OSHA to execute an Emergency Temporary Standard for extreme temperatures. In response, OSHA's Assistant Secretary of Labor conceded that extreme heat can cause work-related deaths. On the other hand, the safety agency noted that the danger does not exceed other work-related hazards that OSHA has deemed to be "significant." Therefore, OSHA feels that there is no legal requirement to immediately address the issue.

The Assistant Secretary of Labor noted that if the danger was deemed immediate, then OSHA would need enough evidence to suggest that an ETS is necessary. This evaluation would take into account existing preventative measures that are already implemented by the agency. Also, OSHA would have to confirm that the ETS technology for extreme temperatures would be economically reasonable.

Currently, the Pentagon utilizes a heat standard to prevent deaths among soldiers. Also, a 2008 study by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries demonstrated a net economic benefit for businesses that employ heat protection rules. Yet, OSHA has not issued a rule to force employers to adopt a heat standard.

Fortunately, fall is here and temperatures have fallen dramatically. But, before we know it, summer will be back and workers will be forced to succumb to rising temperatures. While OSHA has not issued a final ruling, the agency has created a campaign to prevent heat illnesses in extreme working conditions. Here are a few tips that can help you fight the heat:

  • Wear appropriate clothing, such as a hat that can shield your face from the sun
  • Take periodic breaks indoors in an effort to cool down
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water
  • Use sunscreen to prevent skin burns

These preventative measures can help you stay cool under severe working conditions.

Workers should be adequately protected from any threats of harm on the job. If you are injured at your place of employment, you may want to speak to a knowledgeable personal injury attorney. As you struggle to recover from any job-related injuries, a lawyer can help you collect the reparation that you deserve, such as workers' compensation benefits.