The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has urged employers and workers to take proper safety precautions when working in hot weather over the summer months.
On 7 July 2020, 35-year-old Timothy Barber collapsed at the end of his shift after working on the Genesee River Bridge Project in Geneseo, New York. Treated for heat stress and heat exhaustion, he died from hyperthermia on his second day on the job.
Recognising the anniversary of Barber’s death, OSHA has reminded western New Yorkers that when temperatures soar, so does the degree of danger associated with work in high temperatures.
An OSHA investigation into Barber’s death found he had been performing light-duty work, sorting bolts in 90-plus degree temperatures. Working alone without shade, he was without water and not acclimated to the heat.
The agency also determined that his employer, Pavilion Drainage Supply Company Inc, failed to train him and implement other safeguards to protect him and other employees against extreme heat hazards.
“Timothy Barber should not have died. We call attention to this worker’s death so that other workers do not suffer from or succumb to heat-related death and illnesses. They are preventable,” said OSHA Buffalo area director Michael Scime.
“Employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat.”
“We hope something positive comes out of the tragic death of our son, Tim,” said Barber’s parents, James and Kathy Barber. “We join OSHA in wanting to bring awareness to the dangers of heatstroke to businesses for the safety of their employees. No family should have to suffer a loss that is completely preventable.”
Symptoms of excessive heat exposure include heat stroke, heat stress, cramps, headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, heavy sweating, and confusion.
Occupational factors that may contribute to heat illness include high temperature and humidity, low fluid consumption, direct sun exposure, no shade, limited air movement, physical exertion, or use of bulky protective clothing and equipment.
OSHA advised employers with workers exposed to high temperatures to establish and implement a heat illness prevention programme and communicate it to supervisors and workers.
Suggestions include providing workers with water, rest, and shade; allowing new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatise to, or build a tolerance for, working in the heat; planning for emergencies and training workers on heat hazards and appropriate first aid measures; and monitoring workers for signs of illness and taking prompt action if symptoms occur.
“Don’t wait until a worker is sickened to address heat stress – take action,” said Scime. “Employers in Western New York and other areas must take action to keep workers from becoming ill. Effective preparation and knowledge of the hazards of heat can save lives today, and in the future. Three simple words: water, rest, shade can make a huge difference when implemented in the workplace.”