Remarks Prepared for delivery by
Dr. David Michaels
Assistant Secretary of Labor
for Occupational Safety and Health
Press Conference with Meteorologists and Weather Forecasters
about OSHA's Heat Stress Awareness Campaign
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Good afternoon and thank you for joining us today to talk about an important safety issue for our nation's workers.
Whenever there is excessive heat, outdoor workers are at an increased risk for heat related illness and death. In many parts of the country this week we are already seeing extreme heat events. Here in Washington, DC, even though summer has not officially begun, we are expecting temperatures well into the 90's later in the week.
As meteorologists and weather forecasters, you are in a unique position to deliver a lifesaving message to all those who work in the summer's heat. That is why we are asking for your help.
Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill due to working in the heat. About one-third of heat-related worker deaths occur in the construction industry, but outdoor workers in every field -- including agriculture, landscaping, transportation, and oil and gas operations -- are susceptible to the dangers of heat.
For example: Last September, 41-year-old Avery Haas died after working four hours re-roofing an apartment complex in Urbana, Illinois. Temperatures that day reached 90 degrees F, with a heat index in excess of 100 degrees. The crew was working in full sunlight which increased the effective temperature to approximately 105 degrees. During their lunch break, crew members noticed that Avery was showing signs of altered speech and he became increasingly disoriented and exhibited irregular motor control. His coworkers transported him to a nearby hospital where Avery died of complications of heat stroke. Avery's employer did not have an adequate heat illness prevention program and did not ensure that workers were getting enough water, rest and shade or train them in the prevention of heat illness.
Avery Haas' death and all heat-related tragedies are preventable. That is why the Department of Labor has conducted a nationwide awareness campaign in every one of the last four years.
In 2011, we launched a partnership with NOAA and the National Weather Service to educate employers and workers on the dangers of working in the heat. As a result, important worker safety information is now included in all National Weather Service extreme heat alerts and on NOAA's Heat Watch Page.
We also worked with the National Weather Service to develop a smartphone heat safety app that allows users to calculate risk levels at a worksite and learn the protective measures needed to prevent heat illness. Almost 200,000 people have downloaded the app so far.
This spring we released a new version of the app for Apple devices, with full screen color alerts, improved navigation and accessibility options. This improved version let you know instantly if you are in a high risk zone due to heat and humidity -- and precautions that need to be taken to prevent heat-related illness.
The apps are available through our website, at www.osha.gov/heat, where you can also find fact sheets, training manuals, community posters, and more in English and Spanish.
We are grateful to all the meteorologists and weather reporters on the call today -- your support has been crucial to the success of this campaign year after year. Once again, I'd like to ask you to help get the word out by incorporating worker safety messages into your weather broadcasts.
Heat-related stories often highlight at-risk populations including young children, the elderly, and pets. Today we are asking that you also mention outdoor workers, who are at especially high risk because they have to physically exert themselves and are outside for extended periods of time. By speaking directly to those who work in physically demanding jobs under the hot sun, you can help us save lives and prevent heat related illnesses.
Our safety message to workers comes down to three key words: Water. Rest. Shade.
If outdoor workers take these precautions, it can mean the difference between life and death.
We need your help getting the word out that employers are responsible for providing workplaces that are safe from excessive heat. This means providing regular breaks for workers so they can cool down, and ensuring regular access to water so workers can stay hydrated.
Now, I'd like to turn the call over to Laura Furgione, who is the Deputy Director of the National Weather Service.
Thank you, Laura. Before we take your questions, I would like to tell you a little more about our Heat Illness Prevention campaign. Over the last four years, we have reached over 11 million workers and employers in more than 4,150 training sessions, outreach events, informational sessions, publications, and media appearances. We've distributed over 800,000 posters, factsheets, and other educational materials.
As we note in our materials, there are a range of heat illnesses and they can affect anyone, regardless of age or physical condition.
The two most important illnesses to watch out for are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion include headache, nausea, dizziness weakness, thirst and heavy sweating. It can turn into heat stroke quickly if immediate action is not taken.
Heat Stroke is the most serious-heat related illness and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include confusion, fainting, seizures, very high body temperature, and hot, dry skin or profuse sweating. The visible signs of heat stroke are red, hot dry skin or excessive sweating, confusion, seizures and fainting.
It is important to note that anyone overcome by heat should be moved into the shade immediately, and emergency services should be called -- because heat stroke is an emergency
We have found that most work-related heat deaths occur in the first few days of working in the heat. That's why it's important for employers to allow workers to gradually build tolerance to the heat. This is true for new, temporary, and even seasoned workers who have been away from the heat for a week or more, or at the beginning of a heat wave. Employers need to be especially concerned about these workers in the heat.
Employers should ensure that employees:
- Drink water every 15 minutes, even if they are not thirsty
- Rest in the shade or air conditioning to cool down
- Wear a hat and light colored clothing
- Know the signs and symptoms of heat illness
- Report symptoms early and watch out for co-workers
- Know what to do in an emergency
It's my hope that together we can build a network of weather broadcasters who can respond quickly to extreme heat and get our message to workers and employers all across our nation when they need us the most.
This is the language regarding protecting outdoor workers that is added to the NOAA excessive heat warnings that are sent across the country and which you will receive:
Take extra precautions if you work or spend time outside when possible. Reschedule strenuous activities to early morning or evening. Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Wear light weight and lose fitting clothing when possible and drink plenty of water.
To reduce risk during outdoor work, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends scheduling frequent rest breaks in shaded or air-conditioned environment. Anyone overcome by heat should be moved to a cool and shaded location. Heat stroke is an emergency -- call 911.
Thank you again for joining us today and thank you for helping us get this important message out to the public. I have no doubt that by continuing to work together, we can save lives.
Now, we are happy to take your questions.