A report by health officials for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) highlights the ongoing risk of heat-related deaths among workers. Roofers are among the construction workers most at risk because of their unshaded exposure on roofs.
As explained in the report, heat-related deaths occur when activity in hot environments cause workers to build metabolic heat faster than their bodies can release heat and cool down. Of the heat-related deaths reported from 2012 to 2013, the failure to "support acclimatization" appears to be the most common deficiency and the factor most clearly associated with death. Employers need to provide workers who are working outdoors during an extreme heat event or heat wave, especially workers who are absent from the job for more than a few days and new employees, time to acclimatize, This means limiting exposure to direct sun at first, and gradually increasing the duration of work in a hot environment, until the workers' bodies get used to the extreme heat conditions.
The report notes that OSHA has yet to issue a heat standard. In reported cases of heat illness or death, OSHA officials can only cite paragraph 5(a)(1), a "general duty clause," which requires each employer to "furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." OSHA has recently promoted a strong Heat Illness Prevention Campaign limiting exposure to direct sun at first, and gradually increasing the duration of work in a hot environment, until the workers' bodies get used to, or "become " to the extreme heat conditions.
The report notes that OSHA has yet to issue a heat standard—with the core message: "Water. Rest.
Shade" (see "Heat Kills," JLC, 5/29/14). However well this message has been disseminated, the report argues that employers haven't adequately developed complete heat-illness prevention programs. For more information, read the report.