Heat-related injuries, especially within the construction industry, are highly dangerous. The chances of heatstroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration are extremely high when workers are expected to work long hours in the blazing hot sun. There has been much discussion regarding this issue and finally Judy Chu, a rep for the Democratic Congressman spoke up. She introduced a bill, that if passed, would bring about a new OSHA heat standard for heat related injuries and illness. She presented her idea on July 10th and has since been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.
About this New OSHA Heat Standard
After an unfortunate incident in California where a farmworker passed away from heat stroke after picking grapes in 104-degree heat for countless hours, an act was created. The Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act of 2019 to be exact. This would cause OSHA to require mandatory monitoring of all employees and develop heat prevention plans. OSHA will create a limit for heat exposure and take into consideration the requirements of the NIOSH. The health and safety of our workers should take priority over all things.
Chu stated in the bill that the mental and physical capacities of workers who are in the line of fire is increased with exposure to heat. As a result, the risk of work-related injuries increased immensely, which can cause an increase in worker compensation.
OSHA’s current guidelines in regards to keeping employees safe during high heat workdays is as follows:
- Employers are required to provide water and rest, as well as shade for workers.
- Giving leniency to new workers as they acclimate to the high temperatures
- Having a plan in place for emergencies
- Making sure workers are trained and educated in heat illness and injuries
- Monitoring workers for signs of heat illness or injury
States like California, Washington, and Minnesota have all developed their heat standards in hopes to decrease the chances of this happening within their construction sites. For example, California follows the OSHA guidance and requires each person to drink 1 quart of water per hour as well as take breaks and rest in the shade to keep their body temperature down.
Studies have shown that more deaths occur from heat-related injury and illness than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and lightning. Heatstroke, exhaustion, and dehydration are very risky because most times you don’t notice symptoms until it’s too late.
Here are the most common heat illness and injuries to watch out for and their symptoms.
Heatstroke is when your body temperature reaches higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms can often hit you all at once, as well as be gradual. The main symptoms to watch for are confusion, red and dry skin, clamminess, headache, and dizziness. More severe complications can include seizure, rhabdomyolysis, and kidney failure. Heatstroke is the leading cause of over 600 deaths in the US per year.
Heat exhaustion occurs when you are exposed to high temperatures and humidity. Without the proper precautions, heat exhaustion can result in heat stroke which can be fatal as discussed. Symptoms to watch out for are clamminess, heavy sweating, faintness, dizzy spells, fatigue, rapid or weak pulse, low blood pressure, muscle cramps, nausea, and headaches. If you start to notice any of these symptoms stop any activity you are doing, move to a cool place, and drink cool water and sports drinks.
Dehydration is caused when exposed to heat, high-intensity activity, and lack of water intake. Symptoms to look out for are extreme thirst, less urination, dark colored urine, fatigue, dizziness, and confusion.
These few illnesses are just touching the surface of all the possible injuries and illnesses that can occur if you or your co-workers are exposed to high heat. If you have any concerns that your construction site is lacking these few standards, take the time to talk with your manager. Ask them if they have ever considered implementing procedures for heat-related injuries and illnesses. If they do not seem interested, then contact OSHA and have them come to your job site. Your health and the health of your coworkers should be the number priority in a functional and efficient job site.