“It’s important that employers apply precautions and safety measures as required under California’s heat illness prevention standard to all their employees to prevent work-related heat illnesses and fatalities,” said Len Welsh, acting chief of Cal/OSHA. “It is especially important to track the weather and be ready for heat waves.”
Educating supervisors and managers is critical. A Cal/OSHA case study of the heat-related fatalities that occurred in 2006 in California found that 63 percent of supervisors had not been educated on how to prevent heat illness. Often, the symptoms are overlooked or ignored by both supervisors and the employees themselves.
In addition, the same study found that 96 percent of the 2006 heat illness victims were dehydrated despite having drinking water available on the work site.
The Longer the Heat Wave, the Greater the Risk
New workers who have not been acclimated to work in hot temperatures are especially vulnerable, but all employees are at risk when a heat wave strikes and they are suddenly working in temperatures to which they are not accustomed.
The Cal/OSHA study showed that the longer a heat wave continues – especially when nighttime temperatures do not decline significantly – the greater the risk that employees will succumb to heat illness. Employees who are taking certain medications can also be exceptionally vulnerable.
“All employers and workers should be responsible for their well-being and employers must be prepared to act quickly,” Welsh added. “The goal is to prevent heat illness, but if it happens, a fast, competent response can mean the difference between life and death.”
After an unusually hot – and deadly – summer in 2005, California adopted and implemented the nation's first outdoor workplace heat illness prevention regulations, reducing heat-related deaths in the workplace by from 12 in 2005 to 8 in 2006.
For more information regarding heat-related illness prevention, free workshops, training materials and a copy of the California heat illness prevention regulation, visit the California Department of Industrial Relations' Web site.