U.S. Department of Labor
Process: Surface Preparation and Preservation
Overexertion Hazards to New Workers: Case History
Injury and illness rates for workers new to shipyard work tend to be higher than for those workers with experience. A significant contributing factor to these injuries and illnesses is overexertion, including heat exhaustion. For example, a worker was located inside a dry dock welding a bulkhead when he became incapacitated. Although later discovered by a coworker, slumped over part of the bulkhead, and CPR performed, he died from heat exhaustion. The incident occurred in Florida, during the extreme heat of August.
Analysis and Preventive Measures
Surface preparation and preservation work is physically challenging. Not only are workers faced with the physical demands of the work, such as welding and abrasive blasting, but are also exposed to extreme heat conditions and often are burdened from the heat stress that protective clothing and respiratory equipment can cause. A high number of overexertion incidents among new workers are the result of extended time on the job to learn their needed skill. Increasing work time also increases the risk for injury.
The death of the welder in the case history described above could have been prevented had proactive and preventative steps been taken to protect him, including:
- Provide an adequate supply of cool water for workers to drink.
- Modify work schedules to allow for frequent rest periods, such as rotation of workers.
- Pair newer workers with more experienced workers.
- Reduce rotation cycles of one week to one or two shifts, whenever possible.
- Supply workers with protective clothing that provides cooling.
These changes will not only protect workers from the hazards of overexertion, but may help to accelerate overall learning.