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Nick Avgerinos
Nick Avgerinos
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Beating the Heat for Outdoor Laborers

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The summer months require no stretch of the imagination to reach the conclusion that heat can be a danger to workers. While day care centers bring kids inside, athletes cut down on outdoor practice, and restaurants can close their patio seating, some laborers do not have such an option.

On June 23, laborers in California filed suit against their employers who did not comply with state regulations to protect workers from heat stress. The employees allege that they were not provided with enough cool water or shade, were discouraged from taking breaks, were terminated when they complained of poor conditions, and were not given adequate training to recognize heat stress symptoms.

Other workers interviewed in California, which has gained media attention through recent heat spells, describe a pay scale in which the farm workers were compensated on a piece-rate basis, which encourages them to work harder, faster, and not to take necessary breaks to prevent heat stress or stroke.

While not in a desert climate, summer conditions in the Midwest can also be dangerous to workers.

Workers should be educated as to the signs of heat exhaustion (such as clammy and moist skin, extreme weakness or fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, fainting) and heat stroke (such as red, hot, dry skin, rapid, strong pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, or unconsciousness), in order to get help and recognize the symptoms in others.

Workers can prevent heat illness by taking measures such as drinking enough water, working at a slower pace, avoiding sunlight, taking breaks, wearing cool clothing to cover the skin, including hats, avoiding work during the hours in which the sun’s intensity is at its peak, and by avoiding hot foods, heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol. Some employers have gone high-tech and outfitted employers with personal heat stress monitors, which can detect heat illness for individuals.

Furthermore, higher temperature conditions have been proven to be ripe for a higher rate of workplace accidents. These accidents can occur because people may have lower mental awareness and physical performance in the heat. Increased body temperature and physical discomfort also can cause irritability, anger, and other emotional states which might make workers more careless or distracted.

Many simple measures can and should be taken in order to save money for employers, and most importantly, the lives of their employees. Employers have the responsibility to ensure the safety of their workers, and should take special care in the summer months.

For more information, see these valuable resources: http://www.osha.gov/; http://www.baesg.org/heatlist.htm; http://www.pp.okstate.edu/ehs/links/heat.htm