The Time Is Now for A Federal Heat Stress Standard
Today is National Heat Awareness Day. And like clockwork, every year on the last Friday of every May, OSHA comes forward and encourages workers and employers to spot and identify the warning signs of heat exhaustion and illness. A worthy endeavor.
However, what our workers across the country actually need is far more than basic information. They need a workplace heat standard to protect them.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the lives that have been tragically taken from us due to unsafe heat conditions. Here are just a few.
- Oklahoma City, Okla. — On April 8, 2020, a construction worker was working on a new multifamily residential structure. The temperature reached 90o F that day. Upon returning from lunch, he became ill with dizziness, headache, and a tightening in his chest. He lost consciousness and died.
- Alexandria, La. — On September 10, 2019, a worker had been laboring in a non-air conditioned section of a warehouse and was found unresponsive by a coworker who was returning from lunch. The worker died from heat stroke combined with cardiovascular disease.
- Cordele, Ga. — On October 3, 2019, four workers were shoveling wood flakes in the press pit. The pit resembled a basement and was approximately 90 feet by 35 feet by 30 feet in size. One worker started to feel ill. He walked up three flights of stairs and got onto a tricycle to a laboratory. Once in the lab, he was given some water to drink and a cool towel to put on the back of his neck. He then slumped over in his chair and died from a heart attack brought on by heat.
- Warrensburg, Mo. — On September 5, 2019, a worker was loading boxes into a trailer from a conveyor. A coworker discovered him collapsed. He succumbed to the heat of the day and died.
- Blue Eye, Mo. — On August 6, 2019, a day when the temperature was more than 90o F, an employee at a concrete construction company was loading forms into a basket at a residential building construction site. He reported that he was feeling ill. He was placed in a truck to rest. He died. Heat exposure recorded as a factor in his death.
- North Canton, Ohio — On August 8, 2019, a worker disassembled and removed the existing furnace from an attic and moved the new furnace to the attic to begin the installation. The homeowner noticed that it had been about an hour since he had heard any sounds from the attic and went upstairs to check on the worker and found him unresponsive. The worker was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
- White Castle, La. — On August 5, 2019, the temperature soared to 94o F. Several workers were harvesting sugar cane while walking behind a tractor. The workers decided to take a break. One of them fainted from the heat and could not be resuscitated. He died from a probable heat stroke.
- West Point, Ky. — On July 27, 2019, a roofer was working at the construction site for a new library. The temperature was 91o F. He began experiencing symptoms of heat-related illness. He died of heat stroke later that afternoon.
- Hondo, Tex. — On July 19, 2019, the temperature reached 96o F. A construction worker was doing heavy labor at an outdoor athletic field. He was required to work a twelve-hour shift. He was removing vertical rebar stakes when he became overheated. He died of heat stroke.
- Inman, Neb. — On July 1, 2019, on his first day employed by a utility pole services company, a worker dug 48 18-inch deep holes around wood telephone poles so that other employees could perform inspections of the poles’ bases. The temperature was 88o F on that day, and the worker had been performing heavy physical work for 12 and a half hours. He collapsed and could not be revived. Emergency services were called, and he was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead from hyperthermia, dehydration, and cardiac arrest. His body temperature was 106o
- Bainbridge, Ga. — On June 22, 2019, the temperature reached 94o A worker was covering boxes of produce that had been harvested. He stated that he didn’t feel well and returned to the transportation bus to obtain water. He was found unresponsive by another employee some time later. The worker died from a heat stroke.
- Myakka City, Fla. — On June 4, 2019, a worker was removing plastic beds as part of the post tomato harvesting season. In the 93o F heat the worker fainted while trying to reach a shady area and later died.
- Glide, Ore. — One June 3, 2019, a worker was setting the chockers on a log when he suddenly keeled over, attempted to rise, and collapsed. Emergency Services responded, transporting the worker to the hospital. The worker died of heat stroke the next day.
- Madison, Miss. — On September 13, 2018, a worker was removing shingles from the roof of a single story residence when he suffered heat stroke and died.
- Little Rock, Ark. — On May 23, 2019, the temperature reached 89o F. A worker was moving materials to and from the job site, a new sewer/water treatment plant. He spoke with the foreman, saying he felt tired and asked to leave. Approximately 15 minutes later, he was found unresponsive. Emergency services were called and the worker was declared dead. Heat stroke was recorded as the suspected cause.
- East Providence, R.I. — On August 7, 2018, the temperature reached 91o F. A worker was cleaning some brickwork and became overheated. The worker died a short time later from heat stress.
- Brooklyn, N.Y. — On August 2, 2018, a worker at a recycling plant was shredding plastic. The worker went to the emergency room with signs of heat stroke. The worker suffered a heart attack and died 6 days later.
- Woodland Hills, Calif. — On July 6, 2018, postal Service worker Peggy Frank was making her rounds in Los Angeles when she was overcome by the 117o F brutal conditions. She was later found dead in her truck. The official cause of death was hyperthermia.
- Moultrie, Ga. — On June 21, 2018, 24-year-old Miguel Angel Guzman Chavez started a new job picking tomatoes in Georgia. Five days later, when he was working in 99o F heat, he collapsed in the field and went into cardiac arrest. Two hours later, he was pronounced dead.
Every one of the cases listed above represents a remarkable tragedy. Every one of them was a real person with aspirations, hopes, and dreams for their future. Every one of them was torn away from loved ones who cared for them, relied on them, and continue to grieve for them. And while they may have come from all across the country, and they may have labored in a wide range of occupations – from outdoor jobs at farms and construction sites to indoor jobs in warehouses and factories – they all share one profoundly painful fact: every one of their deaths was entirely preventable.
Until our federal government steps up and creates the federal heat stress standard needed to give our workers the protections they deserve, these devastating events will continue to occur.
With countless families being affected by the loss of their loved ones, we cannot allow another year to go by without a federal heat stress standard.