Summer is upon us with all the fun and good times it promises. But there can be a downside for those working outside or around hot equipment and processes; heat stress. There is an average of 30 reported deaths each year that are caused by working in high temperature conditions, and hundreds more are injured to the point of losing their ability to work and earn a living. It is likely that the actual numbers are greater as the statistics only account for reported deaths. Heat and exhaustion are often compounding factors that, while not be the primary cause of the fatality, still affect the circumstances surrounding the fatality.
To counteract this trend, the US Dept. of Labor is launching an awareness campaign in 2012 focusing on outdoor workers; those they consider most likely to suffer from the heat. But so many of our USW brothers and sisters working in the metal foundries, oil refineries, paper mills, chemical plants and myriads of other industries we represent face tremendously high temperatures generated by the processes they control. An awareness program for these workers may be up to us.
Heat stress has to be fought at two levels:
- First, engineering controls such as air conditioning and ventilation have to be employed everywhere practical, and administrative controls such as allowing frequent “cool down” breaks, providing a good supply of water and other liquids, and changing schedules so some work can be done on later shifts during cooler parts of the day must be put in place. The onus here is on management and may require action by your local union leadership to make it happen.
- Second, workers themselves need to understand the risks, how to avoid them and how to recognize symptoms of heat distress when they see or experience them. This used to mean memorizing the info from a table such as that below or the OSHA Quick Card, but now if you own a Smartphone (iPhone, Android, or Blackberry) a free app is available to you that makes this much easier. The app allows you to calculate the heat index for your work place, and then shows you the risk level associated with it and suggests protective measures.
With the proper awareness, tools and knowledge about heat hazards, we can be sure that the only melt down this summer will be from having just too much fun.
 Dallas Morning News; Heat is a Workplace Hazard for Some, Bill Bowen; May 7, 2012;