DES MOINES, Iowa – Feeling the symptoms of heat-related illness, a 24-year-old U.S. Postal Service mail carrier asked her supervisor to be relieved after walking about half-way through her 11-mile delivery route on a hot June day in Des Moines when temperatures exceeded 93 degrees.
Investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration later learned the woman’s supervisor told her initially to continue walking her route despite feeling ill.
In its investigation of the reported illness on June 9, 2016, the department learned that a co-worker – a 47-year-old female carrier – needed transport to a hospital emergency room with heat-related illness on July 21, 2016, when the heat index reached more than 111 degrees. She had walked about five miles in the heat that day.
On Sept. 30, 2016, OSHA issued the post office one repeated citation under the agency’s general duty clause for exposing workers to excessive heat and proposed penalties of $68,591. In 2012, the agency cited the USPS after the heat-related death of a mail carrier in Independence, Missouri in July 2012. Since January 2016, OSHA has investigated 16 heat-related deaths reported to the agency.
“Heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable when employers help workers acclimate to hot environments, allow frequent water breaks, ample time to rest and provide shade,” said Larry Davidson, OSHA’s area director in Des Moines. “Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Employers must keep this in mind and plan additional precautions for working in these conditions.”
The agency has found a lack of heat prevention and acclimatization programs by employers commonly lead to heat-related deaths and illness among workers.
In addition to acclimating workers to heat conditions OSHA also recommends employers:
- Train supervisors and other employees in the proper response to employees reporting heat-induced illness symptoms, which includes stopping work, moving to a cool place, and providing help, evaluation and medical assistance.
- Require trained supervisors to go into the field and conduct in-person evaluations of employees complaining of heat-induced symptoms.
- Establish work rules and practices that encourage employees to seek assistance and evaluation when experiencing heat stress symptoms.
Commonly and mistakenly, people believe that if they are sweating, they are not in danger of heat stroke. In fact, sweating is no indication that heat stroke is possible. One frequent symptom of heat stroke is mental changes, such as confusion or irritability. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. If there is any suggestion of heat stroke, call 911 and institute the other safety measures as quickly as possible. To learn more about heat-stress symptoms see OSHA’s Heat Stress Quick Card http://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3154.pdf
OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool App is available to employers, employees and the public for free download on iPhones and Android phones.
View current citations here.
The postal service has 15 business days from receipt of its citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency’s Des Moines Area Office at 515-284-4794.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.