Time in the Shade: Protecting Workers from Heat Illnesses is the Law

Jul 13, 2011, 7:05 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth


The heat advisory released today from the National Weather Service, which notes that “from the southern Plains to the Atlantic coast, conditions will remain dangerously hot through at least the end of the work week,” comes with an additional advisory:

If you work or spend time outside in an area under a heat advisory or warning, take precautions to avoid heat-related stress or illness.”

The heat illness addition to the weather advisory is part of a campaign launched this season by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in an effort to prevent the tens of heat-related deaths and thousands of illnesses that occurred last year among U.S. workers work who toil in the sun. Jobs requiring long stretches in the sun include farming, landscaping, construction, road repair, airport baggage handling and even car sales.

“It’s very important for workers and employers to take the steps necessary to stay safe in extreme heat," says David Michaels, Ph.D., M.P.H., Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA. "Drinking water often, taking breaks and limiting time in the heat are simple, effective ways to prevent heat illness.”

OSHA has developed heat illness materials in English and Spanish, as well as a curriculum to be used for workplace training. Workers fearful of losing a job or an hour’s pay may be reluctant to abide by heat illness protection recommendations – but employers have a legal duty to protect their workers from hot conditions. Last week the California Department of Industrial Relations shut down an agricultural company for failing to protect workers in temperatures that registered 105 degrees before noon.

Weigh In: Have there been heat-related employee deaths in your community?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.