Recently while scanning some research material relating to consequences of heat exposure, I came across an interesting letter from a group called “Public Citizen” based in Washington US. It was relating to a submission requesting OSHA adopt the NIOSH occupational exposure to heat guidelines (NIOSH 2014). In the letter were the following statements:
“….contributed to the deaths of at least 655 American workers and the serious injury of 53,000 others from serious heat exposure from 1992 through 2012 alone”.
…since September 2011, at least 31 workers have died and 3,260 have been seriously injured by exposure to dangerous heat levels (US Dept of Labor 2014)
This prompted me to have a quick look at the recent US figures. Whilst I haven’t checked the first statement, there have indeed been 35 heat related fatalities between 23/09/2011 and 22/08/2013 (OSHA 2014). Closer to home the numbers are not as high but between 2003 and 2012 there have been 12 occupational fatalities as a result of exposure to environmental heat in Australia (Safework Australia 2012). This included one of the four fatalities currently the subject of a royal commission of the now high profile insulation scheme. The coroner’s report concluded that the young man had died as a result of “complications arising from hyperthermia, which arose from…………………. working in very high temperatures as a roofing insulator without adequate hydration” (Coronial Jurisdiction 2012).
Whilst here we have focused on occupational scenarios, there are also numerous fatalities amongst the general public in non-occupational environments.
It is disturbing that in this day and age we are still seeing deaths from heat stress where most of the key controls are so basic and straight forward. Heat stress related fatalities do not generally occur as a result of a sudden impact as they tend to build up over a period of time. The illnesses by their nature usually provide plenty of warning, so why do these fatalities still occur?
Early recognition and awareness of the symptoms may be part of the solution but they also need to be in a position to be able do something once these signs are identified.
Heat stress is better known for its consequences such as fainting, dehydration and exhaustion. We must not forget that it can and does kill.
Comments to NIOSH on Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments, February 25, 2014. http://www.citizen.org/documents/2187b.pdf Accessed 21 May 2014.
U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Injuries/Illnesses and Fatal Injuries Profiles. http://data.bls.gov/gqt/InitialPage . Accessed February 12, 2014.
OSHA – Heat Fatalities: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/map_text.html Accessed on 21 May 2014.
Safework Australia: Work related traumatic injury fatalities 2012. Accessed on 30/05/2014 at: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/811/Traumatic-Injury-Fatalities-2012.pdf
Local court of NSW Coronial Jurisdiction. (2012). Accessed on 30/05/2014 at: http://www.coroners.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/agdbasev7wr/_assets/coroners/m401601l7/wilson,%20marcus%203374-09%20-%20finding%20&%20recommendations.pdf