Just days after Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels, the National Weather Service’s Director Dr. Louis Uccellini and television and radio meteorologists across the country held a teleconference to discuss the danger of heat to workers and provide life-saving information to share with outdoor workers in their communities, a U.S. Postal Service worker in Medford, Mass., collapsed and died during his mail route.
James Baldasarre, 45, was due to leave work at 4:30 p.m. on July 5, but stayed later to work an additional shift. Baldasarre, who had worked for the postal service 24 years, never finished the route. He collapsed; his temperature reportedly 110 degrees. He died the following day at the hospital.
“This tragic accident should signal the need for more protective measures,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of MassCOSH. “In particular, OSHA should enact a federal standard that protects workers – both indoor and outdoor – from heat illnesses. The standard should include mandatory rest breaks and access to sufficient water and shade.”
Temperatures on July 5 soared into the mid-90s and high humidity made it feel more like 100 degrees. Baldasarre had sent several text messages to his wife about the excessive heat, reportedly texting shortly before collapsing, “I’m going to die out here today. It’s so hot.”
Every year, thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure, and 134 workers died from excessive heat between 2009 and 2011. During hot weather, body temperature quickly can rise to dangerous levels if precautions are not taken. Heat exposure can cause heat illnesses, from heat rash and cramps, to the more serious heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can result in death.
“Our hearts go out to the family of James Baldasarre,” said Goldstein-Gelb. “With temperatures continuing to be at dangerous levels, we hope that the Postal Services and other employers whose workers are at risk of heat exposure take every precaution to follow OSHA’s guidelines.”
Less than a year ago, the U.S. Postal Service in Independence, Mo., was cited and fined after a mail carrier developed heat-related illness symptoms and collapsed on his route. According to Charles Adkins, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City, "If this employer had trained workers in recognizing the symptoms of heat stroke, and taken precautions to ensure workers had access to water, rest and shade, this unfortunate incident may have been avoided."
As long ago as 1972, NIOSH recommended that OSHA adopt a standard to protect workers from heat-related illnesses. In 2011, OSHA launched a campaign on the dangers of heat exposure, but has yet to propose a standard.