Outdoor Workers At Risk as Heat Wave Blankets Much of Country

July 20, 2011
Construction workers, landscapers, postal workers and any other workers who mostly work outdoors are at high risk of heat-related illnesses as a record heat wave moves through the Midwest and East Coast.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service, as many as 13 fatalities potentially related to the heat wave have occurred in the Midwest. While relief finally will come later today and tomorrow in the form of a cold front currently moving across Montana, locations across the central and southern Plains and parts of the Midwest will not see much change from the extended period of heat. The heat wave also has begun to expand eastward.

With these triple-digit temperatures forecasted to remain in place across the eastern United States through July 23 before cooling off slightly to the mid-90s outdoor workers and their employers are being asked to take precautions to prevent heat-related illness and death.

“Four weeks into the summer, the nation continues to experience record heat,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. “For outdoor workers, this means being at risk for heat-related illnesses, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Employers must take the precautions needed to protect outdoor workers.”

These precautions include:

  • Having a work site plan to prevent heat-related illnesses and making sure that medical services are available to respond to an emergency should one occur.
  • Providing plenty of water at the job site and reminding workers to drink small amounts of water frequently – every 15 minutes.
  • Scheduling rest breaks throughout the work shift and providing shaded or air conditioned rest areas near the work site.
  • Letting new workers get used to the extreme heat, gradually increasing the work load over a week.
  • Scheduling heavy tasks for earlier in the day.

“Tell workers what to look for to spot the signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke in themselves and their co-workers, and make sure they know what to do in an emergency,” said Solis. “Remember: water, rest, shade – the three keys to preventing heat-related illnesses in this extreme heat.”

OSHA has fact sheets and posters that illustrate the signs of heat-related illnesses, and the steps that can be taken to prevent them at your worksite. OSHA has posted educational materials about heat-related illnesses, including a curriculum for workplace training, at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html. Video and audio public service announcements can be downloaded at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/mediaresources.html. All of these materials are available in English and Spanish.

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