Although the recent heat wave we have experienced here in Massachusetts may not be a hindrance to individuals who work in air-conditioned office buildings, it has significantly affected those who must work outdoors. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts high temperatures and increased humidity to persist throughout the week, especially in the Southeastern region of the United States. The Southwest is expected to continue to have hot but dry conditions throughout the week. Globally, we have experienced record temperatures, with June being the fourteenth consecutive month of record heat, according to the NOAA. These high temperatures may be the perfect climate for a day at the beach, but they are not without consequence for workers. In 2014, there were 2,630 workers who experienced some sort of heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke while at work, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA explains how hotter temperatures can be hazardous to workers outside. When the outdoor temperature is higher than the body temperature of workers, it becomes more difficult for them to cool off. Typically, the body sweats to in response to excessive heat in order to cool down, but this is only effective if the humidity level is low enough to allow the evaporation of the sweat. Sweating also depletes the body of fluid and salt, which needs to constantly be replenished. When the body cannot cool itself down, heat is stored in the body, thereby increasing the core temperature. As a result of this core increase, Massachusetts workers may experience increased heart rate, inability to focus, and irritability. Fainting and death can occur from heat stroke if the core temperature is not quickly cooled back to a normal degree. In addition to this risk, individuals who are regularly exposed to extreme heat can suffer other heat-related illnesses, such as heat rash and heat cramps, and incidental injuries due to clammy hands, dizziness and burns from hot surfaces. It is important to understand that it is not only the direct consequences of heat stroke that can be hazardous to workers, but also the indirect results. “Heat can kill. And it is especially tragic when someone dies of heat exposure because they’re simply doing their job,” noted Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. “We see cases like this every year and every one of them is preventable. Last summer these included a tree care worker in Virginia, a landscaper in Kentucky, a temporary worker on his first day collecting garbage in Texas.” There have already been several deaths this summer that have been attributed to the heat, including a landscaper from Missouri. Extreme cases of heat exposure cause death; nonetheless, many workers become severely ill from the heat. Last summer, there were over 200 reports of workers who required hospitalization after exposure to the heat, and with this recent heat wave, a record number of people have contacted OSHA with questions regarding worker rights and how to respond to the effects of heat. Continue reading