The beginning of a new year is often filled with hope and excitement for fresh beginnings. However, for one young worker arriving in the United States with dreams of a better future, the start of 2023 took a tragic turn due to inadequate safety measures and lethal heat illness.
The story serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for employers to prioritize the well-being of their workers, especially in the face of rising temperatures and the associated risks of heat illness.
Let’s delve into the details of the incident, and explore the importance of implementing preventive measures to safeguard workers.
Related Article: How to Protect Your Team From Workplace Heat
A Fatal Oversight
On December 31, 2022, a 28-year-old worker arrived in the US with his work visa, ready to embark on a new job at a Parkland, FL farm.
Unfortunately, just a day later, tragedy struck. Placing wooden stakes under the scorching sun, the worker struggled to keep up with more experienced farmworkers, experiencing fatigue and leg pain. Ultimately, he was found unresponsive in a shallow drainage ditch, having fallen victim to the devastating effects of heat illness.
Investigations revealed that his employer could have easily prevented this tragic outcome by following established safety practices.
Of course, following the tragic death, OSHA conducted a thorough investigation into the incident. They discovered that the farm labor contractor failed to implement essential safety measures to protect workers from heat-related hazards.
The employer neglected to provide adequate time for workers to acclimate to high temperatures, failed to supply water, shade, and rest breaks, and disregarded the importance of mitigating heat exposure risks.
OSHA’s Firm Stance on Worker Safety
In response to this preventable tragedy, OSHA cited the contractor for a serious violation, emphasizing the contractor’s responsibility in ensuring worker safety. The citation carries proposed penalties totaling $15,625, reinforcing the gravity of the situation.
OSHA’s Area Office Director, Condell Eastmond, stated that the young worker’s untimely demise could have been avoided if the employer had taken simple steps to protect him from the dangers of heat exposure.
They have 15 business days from receipt of their citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
The Wider Impact of Heat Illness
As temperatures continue to rise across the country, heat illness has emerged as a pressing workplace safety concern.
In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental heat exposure claimed the lives of 36 workers in 2021 – a drop from the 56 heat illness deaths recorded in 2020. And, over the past decade, an average of 43 workers per year have succumbed to environmental heat-related fatalities.
Of course, it’s worth noting that determining the exact number of deaths caused by heat illness can be challenging, as other contributing factors may be cited instead. Thus, the true number could be even higher.
Combating Heat-Related Hazards
Recognizing the severity of the issue, OSHA has initiated a Heat Illness Prevention campaign to raise awareness among employers and workers.
This campaign serves to educate them about the dangers of heat in the workplace and offers valuable resources to identify and mitigate heat-related hazards.
To further assist in protecting outdoor workers, OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have developed a heat safety tool available for Android and iPhones.
This mobile app enables users to calculate the heat index at their worksite and assess the risk level, empowering them to take proactive measures to prevent heat-related injuries.
Bringing It Together
The tragic incident involving the young worker highlights the critical need for employers to prioritize worker safety, particularly when it comes to heat-related hazards. No life should be lost due to preventable circumstances.
It is imperative that you follow established safety practices, provide necessary training and resources, and ensure your workers are protected from the risks posed by rising temperatures. By doing so, you not only demonstrate your commitment to your workforce, but also adhere to legal obligations. And, you create a safer and more sustainable work environment for all.
Let this incident serve as a wake-up call, inspiring action and fostering a culture of safety in every workplace across the nation.
About Worksite Medical
In most cases, OSHA requires medical surveillance testing, and at no cost to employees.
Worksite Medical makes that program easier with mobile medical testing.
We conduct on-site respirator fit tests, as well as audiometric exams, pulmonary function tests and heavy metal lab work, right on your job site. We also keep accurate, easy-to-access medical records for your convenience. You’ll keep your employees at work, and stay ahead of OSHA inspections.