“I’m going to die out here today. It’s so hot.”
MassCOSH reminded the media and the public after the recent heat wave that working outside during oppressive heat isn’t just uncomfortable for workers; it can be deadly.
A Medford employee of the U.S. Postal Service succumbed to the heat on Friday, July 5, as temperatures soared into the mid-90s and the humidity made it feel more like 100 degrees, collapsing and dying on the job. The mail carrier, James Baldasarre (age 45), had sent a text message to his wife about the excessive heat shortly before collapsing, according to news reports. Baldasarre, who had worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 24 years, reportedly texted, “I’m going to die out here today. It’s so hot.”
Every year, thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure, and 134 workers died from excessive heat between 2009 and 2011. During hot weather, body temperature can rise to dangerous levels if precautions are not taken, according to the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Heat exposure can cause heat illnesses, from heat rash and cramps, to the more serious heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can result in death.
“Our hearts go out to the family of James Baldasarre,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of MassCOSH. “With temperatures continuing to be at dangerous levels, we hope that the Postal Services and other employers whose workers are at risk of heat exposure take every precaution to follow OSHA’s guidelines.
“This tragic accident should signal the need for more protective measures,” Goldstein-Gelb said. “In particular, OSHA should enact a federal standard that protects workers – both indoor and outdoor – from heat illnesses. The standard should include mandatory rest breaks and access to sufficient water and shade.”
Less than a year ago, the United States Postal Service in Independence, Mo., was cited and fined after a mail carrier developed heat-related illness symptoms and collapsed on his route. According to Charles Adkins, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City, "If this employer had trained workers in recognizing the symptoms of heat stroke, and taken precautions to ensure workers had access to water, rest and shade, this unfortunate incident may have been avoided."
In 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) undertook an extensive study on heat exposure and recommended that OSHA adopt a standard to protect workers from heat-related illnesses. In 2011, OSHA launched a campaign on the dangers of heat exposure, but has yet to propose a standard.
For more information on how to stay safe on the job during exxesive heat, visit OSHA's campaign to prevent heat illness in outdoor workers by clicking here.