Friday, September 6, 2013

According to the National Weather Service, "Heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year. In the disastrous heat wave of 1980, more than 1,250 people died. In the heat wave of 1995 more than 700 deaths in the Chicago area were attributed to heat, making this the deadliest weather event in Chicago history. In August 2003, a record heat wave in Europe claimed an estimated 50,000 lives."

This July, much of the country experienced a heat wave. According to the National Weather Service, on July 18th over 106 million people were under a heat advisory and over 34 million were under an excessive heat warning in the United States.

OSHA is continuing its partnership with the National Weather Service to include information to protect workers in all heat advisories and warnings. Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels spoke with weather forecasters and meteorologists throughout the country as a reminder to include this information in broadcasts to continue to protect workers on July 1st, 2013 in a teleconference. (Dr. Michael's Remarks)

Why are heat waves so deadly?

Most of the people who die from heatstroke at work were in their first few days on the job, or were working during a heat wave. It takes time for the body to adapt to working in a new temperature and conditions, even if he or she has done similar work in the past. Just one week away from working in the heat can put workers at a higher risk upon the return of hotter and/or more humid weather.

Heat waves are prolonged periods of hotter and/or more humid weather than average for a location at that time of year. Direct sun exposure can increase the heat index by up to 15 degrees. Even workers who are acclimatized to work in the heat, during a heat wave there is an additional period of acclimatization where he or she is at a higher risk of heat-related illness similar to someone new to the job.

What are the signs of heat-related illness?

Heat Exhaustion:
Dizziness; headache; sweaty skin; fast heartbeat; nausea/vomiting; weakness; cramps

Heat Stroke:
Red, hot, dry skin; high temperature; confusion; fainting; convulsions

How can heat-related illness be prevented?

Water.Rest.Shade. These will mean the difference between life and death. In addition, building tolerance to working in the heat (acclimatization) is essential to prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths especially for new workers or those who have been away for a week or more, but for all workers during a heat wave. This means employers must provide time for workers to adjust to the heat- gradually increasing the workload and providing appropriate water, rest and shade.

Planning, communicating and implementing an appropriate work/rest schedule depending on the heat index and level of physical exertion is an important part of working in the heat, especially during acclimatization and during heat waves. OSHA's Using the Heat Index: A Guide for Employers has more information on acclimating and work/rest schedules. Water should be provided nearby and workers should drink it about every 15 minutes, even if not thirsty. Rest should be in the shade or air conditioning to cool the body down. Appropriate clothing helps, such as a hat and/or light-colored clothing. Knowing the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses, keeping an eye on workers, and having an emergency plan are very important to save lives.

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