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Medford Postal Worker’s Collapse Reminds Outdoor Workers Dangers of Heat Exhaustion

A 45-year-old Medford postal carrier died after he collapsed while making a delivery on Friday afternoon.

James Baldassarre, of Haverhill, was found lying on the ground late Friday afternoon on Riverside Avenue. He was pronounced dead at Massachusetts General Hospital on Saturday morning. Baldassarre’s wife, Cathy, believed it was the intense heat and humidity that may have led to her husband’s death.

welder.jpgTemperatures reached the 90s on Friday, with high levels of humidity. When rescuers responded, they found Baldassarre unconscious with a temperature of 110 degrees.

Outdoor workers in agriculture, construction, public service (firefighters, postal workers, etc.), and other industries are at a great risk for heat stress, heat exhaustion, or heatstroke when they are exposed to high temperatures and humidity. Exposure to extreme heat can increase the risk of injuries for workers because often heat results in sweaty palms, fogged safety glasses, dizziness, and burns.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious heat-related disorders. Heat exhaustion is a bodily response caused by loss of water and salt in the body; usually a result of excessive sweating.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

• Heavy sweating • Extreme weakness or fatigue • Dizziness or confusion • Nausea • Clammy or moist skin • Pale or flushed complexion • Muscle cramps • Elevated body temperature • Fast and shallow breathing
Workers suffering from heat exhaustion should rest in a cool, shaded, or air-conditioned area, drink plenty of water or other cool (non-alcoholic) beverages and be sprayed with water.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat disorder and occurs when the body is no longer able to control its temperature, and its sweating mechanism (used to cool the body) fails. When heat stroke occurs, the body’s temperature the body’s temperature can ride to 106 degrees or higher, and may cause permanent disability and even death if emergency treatment is not administered.
Symptoms of heat stroke include:

• Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating • Hallucinations • Chills • Throbbing headache • High body temperature • Confusion or dizziness • Slurred speech
Workers who suspect they are suffering from heat stroke, or those witnessing someone showing symptoms of heatstroke should immediately call 911 and notify their supervisor. The victim should be moved to a cool shaded area, where steps should be taken to cool the worker down; such as soaking his or her clothes in water, spraying him or her with water, and fanning his or her body.

Both workers and employers share a responsibility to prevent heat stroke. Workers who know they will be exposed to extreme temperatures, long periods of sunlight, and high humidity should take the following steps to prevent heat stress:

• Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, and breathable clothing such as cotton, and avoid wearing synthetic material.
• Schedule strenuous work for cooler periods during the day.
• Take frequent breaks in the shade or cool area when possible.
• Drink water frequently; approximately 1 cup of water every 15-20 minutes.
• Avoid dehydrating liquids such as alcoholic beverages, caffeine, and other sugary drinks that cause dehydration.
• Be aware that protective gear and clothing may add to the risk of heat stress.

According to OSHA standards, employers are responsible for ensuring their workers work in safe environments and are protected against potentially dangerous situations. Employers should take the following steps to prevent workers from heat stress:

• Schedule jobs for cooler part of the day, and schedule construction jobs in cooler months, if possible.
• Acclimatize workers to hot work environments by exposing them for progressively longer periods in the heat.
• Reduce physical demands of workers in extreme heat.
• Use relief workers or assign extra workers to jobs.
• Provide cool water and liquids to workers.
• Provide rest periods with frequent water breaks.
• Monitor workers who are at risk for heat stress: workers who are 65 years and older, those who are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.

Under Massachusetts laws and OSHA regulations, employers are responsible for ensuring they provide the safest workplaces and conditions for their employees. Those who fail to maintain safe work practices may be subject to legal liability. If you or someone you love was injured while at work, call one of the experienced Boston Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at the law offices of Altman & Altman to discuss filing a potential workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation law guarantees benefits to workers who are hurt on the job-even if it was the worker who caused the accident. In Massachusetts, workers’ compensation benefits include coverage of medical costs, disability payments, 60% of your average income, compensation for permanent injuries, vocational retraining, and death benefits for immediate family members if the worker was killed on the job. Call one of our seasoned attorneys for a free initial consultation. Our lawyers have nearly 50 years of experience with workers’ compensation laws in Massachusetts, and we have the resources to help you achieve the highest possible settlement. Our attorneys are available around the clock to answer any questions you have about your case.

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