The following is an abridgement of an article originally published on the OSHA website.
A 33-year-old concrete finisher died from heat illness at a construction site in July 2023. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that the employer failed to provide adequate rest, shade, and training to workers exposed to extreme heat and humidity.
The worker collapsed after showing signs of heat illness, such as stumbling, talking incoherently, and vomiting. Coworkers provided first aid and paramedics transported the worker to the hospital, but the worker died two hours later.
OSHA investigators determined that the employer exposed the worker and 18 other employees to hazards of extreme heat while working outside in direct sun for 10-hour shifts. The heat index reached ~41 degrees Celsius and the humidity was 85 percent on the day of the fatality. OSHA Area Office Director Joel Batiz says,
“Had the employer ensured access to shade and rest in this brutal heat, this worker might not have lost their life and would have been able to end their shift safely."
“Regardless of the season – summer or winter – employers must establish rest cycles, train workers in identifying signs and symptoms of weather exposure, ensure workers have time to acclimate to temperatures, and implement and follow safety plans and ensure those plans are monitored. If not, weather conditions can have severe – and sadly, sometimes fatal – consequences, as they did in this case.”
OSHA cited the employer for exposing workers to hazards associated with high heat while working in direct sunlight. The employer faces $16,131 in proposed penalties, an amount set by federal statute.
Increasing summer temperatures continue to impact workers. Fatalities due to exposure to extreme temperatures increased 18.6 percent in 2022, rising to 51 from 43 in 2021. Fatalities specifically due to environmental heat were 43 in 2022, up from 36 in 2021. It is important for employers to take preventative measures to help prevent heat related work illnesses and fatalities.
OSHA has a number of resources that can assist employers and workers in staying safe while working in outdoor and indoor heat environments, including a heat safety tool that allows employers and workers to calculate the heat index and risk level to workers and follow protective measures to maximise safety.
OSHA also urges employers to visit the agency’s winter safety page to understand the dangers of cold-weather hazards in the workplace and view resources to help recognise and reduce risks by planning, equipping and training workers.