Employers must protect workers from the heat

Our view: A safe job site is required; fresh water, cool spot are necessary
2013-06-16T00:00:00Z Employers must protect workers from the heat Arizona Daily Star
June 16, 2013 12:00 am

It's not summer yet, but we're already roasting in 100-degree-plus temperatures.

Summer doesn't officially begin until Friday - but it's clear that you cannot wait until then to take precautions against the heat.

We know heat can kill. But we may be startled by how quickly that can happen.

For instance, in May 2012 two women died here within days of each other while hiking in 100-plus temperatures. Both were young: The first was celebrating her 23rd birthday; the second was a 32-year-old tourist. Both collapsed on the trail and died.

Just last week, 11 employees at a McDonald's in Marana who were working in a kitchen with no air conditioning were treated for heat-related symptoms. The high temperature outside was 103 degrees. The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health is investigating the incident.

There is no specific federal or Arizona standard for prevention of heat-related illnesses. But employers are expected to take steps to prevent heat-related illness under the "general duty" requirement to provide a safe workplace, according to ADOSH.

Employers of outdoor workers are required by law to provide sufficient cool, fresh drinking water and access to shade or a cool spot for at least five minutes at a time, according to ADOSH.

Workers who believe they are being made to work in unsafe conditions can call an ADOSH hotline to complain (see box).

It's also important for each of us to protect ourselves from heat exhaustion and heat stroke. It's vital - and that's exactly the right word - to learn the symptoms (see box) and understand what to do if you or someone you're with begins to experience them.

Prevention measures include drinking lots of water. Never wait until you're thirsty to drink; by then, it's too late. Don't drink alcohol at all; water is better than soft drinks.

ADOSH recommends that outdoor workers consume at least 8 ounces (that's three of those disposable paper cones) every 15 minutes throughout a work shift. Hikers and gardeners would be prudent to do the same.

Wear loose-fitting, light-weight cotton clothing. Choose light colors. Cover your neck with a bandanna and wear a wide-brimmed hat. Baseball caps aren't much help, so leave them at home.

Take frequent rest breaks in the shade to cool down. If you're hiking, what's the rush? If you're working in your yard, it is simply smart.

Finally, pay attention to how you feel. If you're feeling weak, overheated or experiencing any other symptoms, don't ignore them.

Never assume that because the people you're with seem to be doing well, you must be, too. Sit down. Drink water. Rest.

To complain

If you believe your employer is providing unsafe work conditions - if the air conditioning is out and you believe conditions are intolerable or if you're not getting enough water or breaks to rest in the shade - call the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health hotline. It's monitored even on weekends and ADOSH will take action within hours, according to Jessie Atencio, assistant director and consultation and training program manager in the Tucson office. You needn't leave your name, Atencio said.

The number is 1-855-268-5251.

Watch for

Symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke include:

• Dizziness.

• Headache.

• Sweaty skin or red, hot, dry skin.

• Weakness.

• Cramping.

• Nausea, vomiting.

• Fast heartbeat.

• Confusion.

• Convulsions.

• Fainting.

How to help

• Don't dither: Call 911.

• Move the person into shade.

• Provide water little by little, unless the person is vomiting.

• Loosen his clothing.

• Help cool him by fanning him; put ice packs in groin and armpits if you have them; pour cool water on his clothing.

SOURCE: Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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