Federal investigators have cited an Indiana landscaping company in the death of a 23-year-old ground crewman who died from heat-related injuries July 22 after working more than nine hours in direct sunlight when the heat index topped 110 degrees.
Townsend Tree Service Company of Muncie, Ind., faces penalties of $12,471 for its failure to implement a heat-prevention and acclimatization program for workers exposed to excessive heat, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said. The agency investigated the death of the worker, who fell unconscious at a job site in Poplar Bluff, Mo., and cited the company on Sept. 20.
“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,” said Bill McDonald, OSHA’s area director in St. Louis. “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.”
OSHA has found that heat-related worker deaths commonly stem from an employer’s lack of heat-prevention and acclimatization programs.
Bonita Winingham, OSHA’s Acting Regional Administrator in Kansas City, said that a review of heat-related deaths among several industries found that most workers were new to the job and not physically acclimatized to the constant heat and sun exposure.
OSHA led a heat-injury awareness campaign over the summer as temperatures soared to record heights in many parts of the country. The Townsend Tree Service employee’s death was one of 16 since the start of the year.
But heat-related dangers persist even as fall brings cooler temperatures. Ms. Winingham said that “those working indoors in factories, bakeries, and other heated environments are at risk of heat-related injuries.”
In addition to acclimating workers to heat conditions, OSHA also recommends employers:
- Train supervisors and other employees in the proper response to employees reporting symptoms of heat illness.
- Require trained supervisors to go into the field and conduct in-person evaluations of employees complaining of heat-related symptoms.
- Establish work rules and practices that encourage employees to seek assistance and evaluation when experiencing heat stress symptoms.