Deadly Degrees: Excessive Heat Is Hazardous to Those That Work Outside

Toni Sutton

North Hills, CA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Summer is here, and for many, that means sun and fun. But what that also means is that in cities where there is excessive heat, employees that work outdoors are at risk for an array of heat-related illness and even death.

Every year because of hot temperatures outdoors, thousands of workers fall ill and suffer heat-related injuries while on the job, and in severe cases dozens of these workers injuries are fatal. Unfortunately, the records of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are filled with stories of employees that have died from heat-related death.

Even though construction workers make up one-third of these worker deaths, other workers in industries such as landscaping, agriculture, and transportation are vulnerable to the dangers of extreme heat.

Just recently, 63-year-old Peggy Frank of North Hills, CA was found dead in her mail truck on a day where excessive heat advisories were in force by the National Weather Service. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Medical-Examiners-Coroner’s office, Peggy was found sitting in her registered vehicle unresponsive by either a bystander or coworker.

The temperature that day in the Woodland Hills area where she was working had climbed to a record high of 117 degrees. As of yet the exact cause of her death has not been released; however, Frank’s family firmly believe that the cause of her death may have stemmed from heat exhaustion.

In 2014, a willful citation to a U.S. Postal Service in Independence, Montana issued by OSHA was upheld by an administrative law judge after a mail carrier died two years prior. According to an investigation carried out by OSHA, the postal employee had collapsed due to being exposed to blistering temperatures. Throughout the investigation, it was found that during those times of excessive heat, there were no procedures in place to address any concerns that employees may have had.

Fox4KC.com reported that OSHA fined the Postal Service $70,000 for not taking proper precautions to keep their workers safe under extreme heat.

In Des Moines, Iowa, while delivering mail in the summer of 2016, two mail carries also suffered illness due to being exposed to excessive heat, and OSHA cited the Postal Service. The agency found out later that one of the employees was allegedly told to keep working in spite of feeling ill.

States like California and Nevada are also no strangers to extreme heat once summer is in full effect.

In a WorkersCompensation.com phone interview with workers from both states, they shared how working in excessive temperatures affected their lives on the job.

Tyler O’Connor-Hoy, an irrigation technician for the Poway Unified School District in San Diego, said, “On days where it’s over 90 degrees, I try and take a break in the shade every couple of minutes. I always wear a hat and sunblock, and keep cold water with me at all times. It would be great if my employer would provide me with some kind of temporary shade like a pop-up canopy. That would definitely help me out when I’m battling with the heat as I work.”

A greeter for the Wyndham Hotel in Las Vegas, NV said the heat can definitely be brutal on any given day on the Las Vegas strip. Cherryil Sung noted, “I drink a lot of water and Gatorade, and I seek refuge inside during the two ten-minute breaks I get. Thankfully when I am working I do get to stay put underneath a big AC fan located near M&M World so I’m not in direct sunlight throughout the day.”

Employers are responsible and are required to protect their employees from safety hazards —weather and extreme temperatures included. To make sure of this, OSHA launched a campaign in 2011 to make sure both employers and workers were educated about the dangers of working in the heat. From training sessions to social media messaging, informational meetings and outreach events were offered up to millions of employees and their employers to learn how to protect workers from doing their job in intense heat conditions.

OSHA took it one step further last year and re-designed a free app with the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App. It could aid in keeping workers safe while working outdoors in hot weather. The mobile app, for both Android and iOS devices, can determine the heat index values, which is a measure of how hot it actually feels based upon the temperature and humidity. This app is a benefit for all employees that work out in extreme temperatures to use for checking weather conditions.

Brenda Jacklitsch (PhD), a health scientist at NIOSH who was also involved in the redesign and update of the app, gave WorkersCompensation.com an update on how the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App has been performing.

She said, “We’re pleased that as of July 2018, the app had been downloaded just over 314,000 times and is one of the most popular CDC apps based on total downloads in the CDC Mobile Apps storefront. We continue to make improvements, such as adding options to switch between Fahrenheit and Celsius, navigational upgrades, and an in-app FAQ section that addresses how to switch to Spanish and enable VoiceOver Accessibility. We are also interested in user feedback, and we are taking comments we receive from reviews left in the app stores into consideration for future updates.”

Ideally, with the use of the app, as well as both employers and employees knowing how to properly prevent illnesses and fatalities while working in the excessive heat, the numbers of injuries and death related to the hot summer temperatures will begin to decline.