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NWX-DOL-OSHA

Moderator: Laura McGinnis
June 10, 2015
2:30pm CT

Coordinator:

Welcome and thank you for standing by. At this time, all lines are in listen-only mode until the duration of today's call.

During the question and answer session, please press *1 on your touchtone phone.

Today's conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time.

I'd now like to introduce Laura Furgione. You may begin.

Laura Furgione:

Thank you. I think I'm going to defer to Dr. David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

David Michaels:

Great. Thank you so much Laura. This is David Michaels. As you heard, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. Thank you for joining us today to talk about an important safety issue for our nation's workers.

Whenever there's excessive heat, outdoor workers are at increased risk for heat-related illness and death. In many parts of the country this week, we're already seeing extreme heat events. And here in Washington DC, even though the summer has not officially started, we're expecting temperatures well into the 90s later this week.

As meteorologists and weather forecasters, you are in a unique position to deliver a life-saving message to all of those who work in the summer's heat, and that's why we're asking you for your help.

Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill because they're 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, oil and gas drilling -- they're all susceptible to the dangers of heat.

And let me give you an example -- a tragic one. Last September, 41-year-old Avery Haas died after working four hours reroofing an apartment complex near Urabana, Illinois. Temperatures that day reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit with a heat index above 100 degrees. The crew was working in full sunlight, which increased the effective temperature to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

During their lunch break, crew members noticed Avery was showing some signs of altered speech. 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 that employer did not ensure that workers were getting enough water, rest, and shade. And that employer didn't train them in the prevention of heat illness.

Avery Haas' death and all heat-related tragedies like his death are preventable. That's 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 heat. As a result, important worker safety information is now included in all of the National Weather Service's extreme heat alerts and on NOAA's Heat Watch page.

We've also worked with the National Weather Service to develop a smart phone heat safety app that allows users to calculate risk levels at the work site and learn the protective measures needed to prevent illness. Almost 200,000 people have downloaded that 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 lets you know instantly if you're in a high risk zone due to the heat and the humidity, and lets you know the precautions you need to take to prevent heat-related illness.

The apps are available through our website, which is www.osha.gov/heat or you could also find fact sheets, training manuals, community posters, and much more, and everything on there is in English and Spanish.

We're very grateful to all of the meteorologists and weather reporters on the call today. Your support has been crucial to the success of the campaign year after year. Once again, I'd like to ask you for your help to 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're asking 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 save lives and prevent heat-related illnesses.

Our safety message to workers, which we hope you will convey, comes down to three words, three simple words -- water, rest, shade.

If outdoor workers take these precautions, it can mean the difference between life and death. So we need your help getting the word out that employers are responsible for providing workplaces that are safe from excessive heat. And of course, this means providing breaks for workers so that 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 deputy director of the National Weather Service. Laura?

Laura Furgione:

Thank you David. I truly appreciate your partnership, and we're happy to contribute to this campaign. Here at NOAA's National Weather Service, we're committed to building a weather-ready nation. That's our strategic initiative and it's really about preparing people to be responsive and resilient to extreme weather situations, and excessive heat is one of those situations.

OSHA shares NOAA's vision of building a weather-ready nation, and together we're providing businesses and workers with life-saving information about extreme heat events. Heat is a silent hazard. People working outside in the heat often don't recognize that they're in trouble -- just like the scenario that David described.

Hyperthermic conditions set in before the actually know they need medical assistance, and sometimes that comes too late. According to CDC, an average of 658 heat-related deaths per year occurred over the 1999 to 2009 timeframe, and heat deaths were reported most frequently among males.

Extreme weather often impacts women and children, but in this situation -- just like lightning and rip current fatalities -- extreme heat has higher impacts on males, at 69 percent.

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the deadly heatwave that struck Chicago, leading to nearly 750 fatalities during a single week. In the wake of this tragic event, the National Weather Service has made significant changes to our heat product services and the way we communicate information to the public.

A couple of the things that we're doing that is new, one is our heat warnings. Our heat warnings now have a call to action safety guidelines and impact information, including language targeted to outdoor workers.

Secondly, we have successful partnerships like this one with OSHA, EPA, CDC, and the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention to expand the reach of our heat safety awareness campaigns.

Third, we have a new heat safety Web page with safety tips and outreach materials, which are part of our new Summer Weather Safety campaign.

And last but not least, we're working to develop an operational heat outlook, which covers a two-week period. Ideally this will allow better temporal resolution of information and use of state-of-the-art databases and techniques.

So for example, right now we have a summer weather outlook. Can you believe it's June already? We expect to have hot weather in certain regions. Note exposure to early season extreme heat can be especially hazardous, because our bodies have not yet acclimated to warmer temperatures.

This is the case in many parts of the Pacific Northwest, where actually they normally experience cool, wet conditions, but they've been experiencing record heat over the past five days. High temperatures have been 10 to 25 degrees warmer than usual for this time of year in the Pacific Northwest.

So in the next six to ten days, we're forecasting excessive heat for Southcentral Alaska and also for the Eastern seaboard. So what this means is we expect in those areas 95 percent above average heat index -- again, Southcentral Alaska and the Eastern seaboard.

As we look out further in time, over the next two weeks, our eight- to 14-day outlook has a temperature probability. And in those similar areas we're expecting above normal temperatures -- again, Southcentral Alaska, the panhandle of Alaska, and then also the Eastern seaboard down to Southern Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

So this broadcast and teleconference with you right now is rather timely, because heat is on the way.

So I appreciate your attention today. Many of you are broadcast meteorologists. I'm always asked if I'm on TV, but no I rely on you all to get that information out. You know the danger of excessive heat, but many of our viewers and followers do not. So please encourage your audience to heed our heat advisories and warnings and to monitor our official web pages at weather.gov.

As I've mentioned, every one of our heat advisories and warnings contain language targeted towards the outdoor workers. These messages warn people to drink plenty of water, take frequent breaks in the shade or even in air conditioning if possible, wear light-colored clothing, and also lightweight clothing.

Your help highlighting this language to your audience this summer could save lives, especially when the heat reaches dangerous levels.

I also want to point out the danger of leaving babies, small children, and pets in vehicles. More than 630 children have died since 1998, and even four already this year, from being left unattended in hot vehicles. This is a preventable tragedy, and we appreciate your assistance in helping with that.

Thanks again for sharing these public safety messages with your viewers and helping us become a weather ready nation. Many of you are ambassadors already for the weather ready nation campaign.

When more people take action based on our warnings, more lives will be saved. And it obviously could be a very hot summer for much of the country, including this upcoming weekend when all of the schools are now out and children are playing outdoors.

Let's make sure the public knows how to avoid heat-related illnesses. Thank you. David?

David Michaels:

Great. Thank you so much, Laura. So before I take your questions, I'd like to talk a little bit more about our heat illness prevention campaign. Over the last four years, we've reached more than 11 million workers and employers in more than 4,000 training sessions, outreach events, informational sessions, and we've produced publications and media appearances. We've distributed more than 800,000 posters, fact sheets, and other educational materials in that campaign.

And as you'll see if you look at our materials, we cover a range of heat illnesses, and these heat illnesses can affect anyone regardless of their age or physical condition. As you heard, young men are particularly at risk. They're the ones out working in the hot weather. They're the ones who think they're immortal and the heat isn't going to affect them, and it does.

So the two most important illnesses to watch out for are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. And the symptoms of heat exhaustion include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst, and heavy sweating. And that can turn quickly into heat stroke if immediate action isn't taken.

And as you all know, heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness, and that requires immediate medical attention. The symptoms can include confusion, fainting, seizures, very high body temperature, hot, dry skin, or profuse sweating. There are visible signs in some cases, including red, hot, dry skin, excessive sweating, confusion, seizures, even fainting.

We tell people it's very important to remember anyone overcome by heat should be moved into the shade immediately, and emergency services should be called immediately, because heat stroke is an emergency.

And as Laura said, we found that most work-related heat deaths occur in the first two days of working in the heat. That's why it's very important for employers to allow workers to gradually build up their tolerance to the heat early in the season. That's true for new workers, temporary workers, even seasoned workers who have been away from the heat a week or more, or at the beginning of a heat wave.

Employers need to be especially concerned about these workers in the heat. We tell employers that they need to ensure that their employees drink water every 15 minutes, even if they're not thirsty. They need to 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 those symptoms early, and to watch out for their coworkers. And we think every employee should know what to do in an emergency.

So 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 out to workers and employers all across the country when they need us most.

So thank you again for joining us today and thank you so much for helping us get this important message out to the public. I have no doubt that by working together, we can save lives.

And now, I think both Laura and I are happy to take your questions.

Coordinator:

And thank you. At this time, to ask a question from the phone line it is *1 from your touchtone phone. Please unmute your line and record your name clearly as prompted. To withdraw the question, it is *2. One moment please for the first question.

Again, to ask a question it is *1 from your touchtone phone. And please stand by.

Once again as a reminder, to ask a question it is *1 from your touchtone phone to ask a question and *2 to withdraw.

Christopher Cole, your line is open.

Christopher Cole:

Hi. Good afternoon. Dr. Michaels I was wondering if you could speak to whether the agency, whether OSHA has looked at emergency temporary standards on this issue. The agency has been asked before to do that.

In some of these situations, like the conditions cited in the Northwest, where you're looking at extreme heat on the way, is that something that OSHA still considers or - because...

David Michaels:

Emergency temporary standards wouldn't really apply in this situation, given this is a well-known, long-term hazard that we've been aware of for quite a long time. And it's cyclical. We do see this every summer.

You know, I think we're seeing very hot summers and we recognize there is a real problem. But it doesn't lend itself to the statute that covers emergency temporary standards.

Christopher Cole:

Okay. Just one other question on enforcement. In the cases in which OSHA has cited employers as a result of a heat illness occurrence, are you generally finding that these employers do not have heat illness prevention strategies at all, or they're not adhering to them?

David Michaels:

Both. Generally what we find is they have not taken any precautions at all. They just send workers out there into these extreme heat situations and just say, "You work there," and have done nothing.

And obviously that's not only legally unacceptable, but it's killing people.

Christopher Cole:

Thanks.

Coordinator:

And thank you. Again as a reminder to ask a question to please press *1 from your touchtone phone, unmute your line, and record your name clearly as prompted.

Laura Furgione:

If I may -- this is Laura Furgione from the Weather Service -- back to Christopher's question, he mentioned upcoming heat in the Pacific Northwest. That was actually last weekend. So we're expecting the heat this weekend for the Eastern seaboard and for the next two weeks. So it's really a - the focus is changing. We're expecting normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest.

Coordinator:

And thank you. Our next question is from Bruce Rolfsen). Your line's open.

Bruce Rolfsen:

Thank you. Dr. Michaels, I was looking at some fatality data from the BLS for workplace fatalities, and they'd shown in 2011 -- the year this program kicked off -- about more than 60 fatalities and after that a noticeable drop off in 2012, 2013. Do you think this OSHA's effort is, you know, can take any credit for that, for raising the consciousness amongst folks or?

David Michaels:

We think so, but we're not prepared yet to definitively say that. We'd like to see another year of data. Last summer was a particularly hot summer. We saw that the number of heat fatalities that were reported to OSHA dropped precipitously from the previous years as well.

So we'd like to see the BLS numbers from 2014, but the numbers, we only got four - we reported - only four heat-related fatalities were reported to us last summer, in comparison to 14 the year before.

So, so far the data are consistent that the numbers are going down. We think that's a good thing. We believe we're having an impact. But we certainly don't want to let up. And the message can't be the problem's over, but we have to work as hard as we can to make sure because one heat-related fatality is one too many.

Bruce Roofsen

:

I guess it's always an issue too where a lot of times people have heat-related issues but it may not have happened - they might not finally feel the real impact of it until they're at home or on their way home.

David Michaels:

Correct, and we certainly know that other causes of death are associated with heat. And so they're not all being attributed to heat. And that's always going to be in issue in terms of understanding the statistics.

Bruce Rolfsen:

Okay. Well thank you.

Coordinator:

And thank you. Our next question comes is from Nihal Krishan. Your line's open.

Nihal Krishan:

Yes. Hi. I'm a reporter with Cronkite News, PBS Arizona, and so I was wondering if you could perhaps give me a little bit more information and data on heat strokes and heat waves in Arizona, and the Southwest particularly.

And then second of all, how OSHA's app on the heat safety tool, how well it's been accepted and implemented within Arizona and the impact it's had on potentially saving lives there.

David Michaels:

Let me answer the second part of your question first by saying I don't have at my fingertips any specific data on Arizona.

Nihal Krishan:

Yes.

David Michaels:

We can look to see if there is any, but I don't know if we actually have that in terms of the acceptance of our heat app. We have now some metrics that will measure and then we can look forward into that. We can talk in a few weeks or a few months.

Nihal Krishan:

Yes.

David Michaels:

But in general, our heat app has been very widely accepted for the most downloaded Department of Labor app and, you know, approaching 200,000 downloads for a government app is very good. So we're pleased about that.

Laura, I don't know if you could address any issues about heat waves in Arizona directly. I know without preparation for that either it might be tough.

Laura Furgione:

Ye

s the only thing I can say looking ahead in regards to our forecast, the eight to ten day outlook does have them 50 to 60 percent above the average in regards to the heat index. And then we go out - so just the upcoming week, similar. So they are expecting above average temperatures over the next two weeks in that area.

Nihal Krishan:

All right. And anything else that you think might be useful for a reporter from Arizona or the Southwest who's trying to cover this new update for your app, and educating people on why it might be necessary or useful?

David Michaels:

You know, Arizona has a state OSHA program, and I know...

Nihal Krishan:

Yes.

David Michaels:

...that they have a YouTube video on preventing heat illness specifically aimed at workers in Arizona. So that's probably...

Nihal Krishan:

Yes.

David Michaels:

...worth mentioning. And of course, all of our materials are in English and Spanish because construction workers and agricultural workers in Arizona -- but in much of the rest of the country -- many are Spanish-speaking. And so that's been important to do.

Nihal Krishan:

All right. Spanish and English. That'll be great. And you said to be in touch in the coming weeks about data?

David Michaels:

I'd say in a few months, we have a much better way to track things this year. Every year we improve the app and also the metrics that we use to track its use. And so we may have some better data in a month, let's say.

Nihal Krishan:

Okay. Great, thank you.

Coordinator:

Thank you. Again as a reminder if you do have a question to please press *1 from your touchtone phone.

David Michaels:

Let me - can I just add the - Bruce Rolfsen asked the question earlier about the drop in occupationally-related heat fatalities. And so for those of you who don't have access to the data, in 2011 there were 61 fatalities coded by the BLS -- Bureau of Labor Statistics -- as heat-related. That dropped to 31 in 2012 and 34 in 2013. We're waiting for the 2014 numbers to see if the trend continues. But we're pleased with the direction the numbers are going, but think we still have a ways to go.

Coordinator:

And thank you. Our next question is from Jessica Delgardo). Your line's open.

Jessica Delgardo:

Hi. How are you? I'm calling to see because I'm online trying to find the information in Spanish because our audience is Spanish-speaking. And I don't find it in Spanish on the website. What do I go under? Any specific website for Spanish?

David Michaels:

One of our staff here will tell you exactly where it is.

Woman:

Hi yes. If you're on our English page, if you're on the Educational Resources page, you can see both the links for English and Spanish. But if you'd like to see the whole Web site in Spanish, there is a button in the right hand corner that says "Version en Español" and you can click that button and the website will be in Spanish and you can read all of the information in Spanish there.

Jessica Delgardo:

Where? I think I'm not in the right...

((Cross talk))

Woman:

OSHA...

Jessica Delgardo:

What is it?

Woman:

www.osha.gov/heat.

Jessica Delgardo:

OSHA. Give me one second. Dot gov?

Woman:

Dot G-O-V.

Jessica Delgardo:

Okay.

Woman:

Slash heat. Backslash heat.

Jessica Delgardo:

Okay.

Woman:

And you'll see a blue button in the right corner of the screen that says "Version en Español."

Jessica Delgardo:

Slash heat. Wait. My internet is not working. So sorry. (Unintelligible).

David Michaels:

Maybe you can get back to us afterwards.

Jessica Delgardo:

Okay. All right.

David Michaels:

(Unintelligible). You can call us up and we'll work on it.

Coordinator:

Thank you.

Jessica Delgardo:

Thank you.

Coordinator:

And thank you. As a reminder, to press *1 on your touchtone phone with any questions.

I'm showing no further questions at this time.

David Michaels:

Great. Well, I want to thank everybody and especially Laura and our partners at National Weather Service. This has been a really important partnership for I think both of our agencies. And we're grateful for your help in getting this message out to workers across the country.

Laura Furgione:

Thank you, Dr. Michaels.

Coordinator:

And thank you. This does conclude today's call. You may disconnect your lines, and have a wonderful afternoon.

END

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