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Heat Illness and Death Among Workers – Get the Facts

Exposure to heat and hot environments puts workers at risk for heat stress, which can result in heat illnesses and death. Under paragraph 5(a)(1) in the “general duty clause” of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, each employer is required to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees”.

Because OSHA has not issued a heat standard, it must use 5(a)(1) citations in cases of heat illness or death to enforce employers’ obligations to provide a safe and healthy workplace. During the 2-year period reviewed, 20 cases of heat illness or death were cited for federal enforcement under paragraph 5(a)(1) among 18 private employers and two federal agencies. In 13 cases, a worker died from heat exposure, and in seven cases, two or more employees experienced symptoms of heat illness. Most of the affected employees worked outdoors, and all performed heavy or moderate work, as defined by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (2). Nine of the deaths occurred in the first 3 days of working on the job, four of them occurring on the worker’s first day. Heat illness prevention programs at these workplaces were found to be incomplete or absent, and no provision was made for the acclimatization of new workers. Whenever a potential exists for workers to be exposed to heat or hot environments, employers should implement heat illness prevention programs (including acclimatization requirements) at their workplaces.

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