U.S. Labor Department’s OSHA stresses importance of worker safety

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is continuing to emphasis its education and outreach initiative aimed at the hazards of working outdoors in the heat and the steps needed to prevent heat illness especially during this week’s significant heat wave in the Midwest.

“If you’re working outdoors, you’re at risk for heat-related illnesses that can cause serious medical problems and even death,” said Secretary Solis. “But heat illness can be prevented. This Labor Department campaign will reach across the country with a very simple message – water, rest, and shade.”

Each year, thousands of outdoor workers experience heat illness such as heat exhaustion. In 2009, there were over 1,790 cases of workers becoming seriously ill due to heat. If not quickly addressed, heat exhaustion can become heat stroke – which killed over 30 workers last year.

“As we move into the summer months, it becomes even more important for workers and employers to take the steps necessary to stay safe in extreme heat,” said OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. “Drinking water often, taking breaks, and limiting time in the heat are simple, effective ways to prevent heat illness.”

Workers in a variety of industries are vulnerable to heat illness. These include, among others: roofing contractors; scheduled passenger air transport (job tasks on the tarmac, including baggage handlers); used car dealers; farm labor contractors and crew leaders; water transportation; poured concrete foundation and structure contractors; landscaping services; electric power transmission, control, and distribution; highway, street, and bridge construction; greenhouse, nursery, and floriculture production; and support activities for oil and gas operations.

OSHA has developed new educational materials, available both in English and Spanish, as well as a new educational curriculum for employers and workers. A new website provides information on heat illness and contains resources aimed at educating workers and employers on the symptoms of heat illness, how to prevent it, and what to do in case of an emergency. The website can be found at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html.

OSHA hopes to leverage relationships with state and local partners, employers, trade organizations, unions, community groups, educational institutions, and health care professionals to disseminate training materials and educate workers and employers on the hazards of working in the heat and how to prevent heat related illnesses.