Workers face increased risk for heat exhaustion and death

In the last decade, at least 384 workers have died from environmental heat exposure, according to an NPR/Columbia Journalism School investigation. Now, a report published by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) stated outdoor workers could face four times as many days with hazardous heat if climate change is not soon addressed.

Peter Dooley, Safety and Health Senior Project Coordinator for the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss why more needs to be done to protect workers laboring in hot and dry conditions, and how the most effective protective measures against heat death are simple.

No worker protections in place against heat

A recent convention by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health heard testimonies from Arizona workers who struggled in the midst of a recent heat wave.

It is a universal problem, Dooley said, noting this past July was the hottest July on record.

He believes this heat crisis will worsen as a result of climate change — and workers will suffer the result.

Unfortunately, there are no standards in place to protect workers in Arizona, Dooley said. The council has documented numerous instances of workplace fatalities that occurred as a result of heat where companies did not receive fines or infractions.

Prevention of heat death is simple and obvious

Heat is one of the oldest known work related hazards — but it is also the most preventable. Sadly, there are no specific requirements in place to prevent workers from heat exhaustion and death.

Dooley said prevention is remarkably simple — take breaks and drink plenty of water on the job. Provide employees adequate rest areas in air conditioning. Give workers access to drinking water. Allow them to rest in shade. Sadly, all too often these simple measures are not followed, he added.

Dooley recalled one construction worker who died of heat exhaustion on the job. His body temperature reached 118 degrees in an environment that was 109 degrees. A postal worker in Arizona died of heat stroke while delivering the mail. These stories are prevalent and surprisingly common, Dooley explained.

Action is needed to protect against heat stroke. Workers have the right to work in safe, healthy environments — and that includes protection from heat, he said.


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