Lack of Heat Safety Standards Puts Texas Workers at Risk, as Heat-Related Deaths Continue to Rise

Since the start of the heat wave, at least two workers have died in Texas from causes that officials are investigating as possibly heat-related. Justin Cory Foster, a 35-year-old lineman, died in the East Texas town of Marshall, and Eugene Gates Jr., a 66-year-old letter carrier, died in Dallas. Climate change amplifies heat waves, which become more frequent, last longer and reach higher temperatures, scientists have told The Texas Tribune. Workers exposed to high temperatures can suffer heat stress or heat stroke.

OSHA recommends paying attention to symptoms such as headaches, nausea, weakness or dizziness, heavy sweating, elevated body temperature, thirst, decreased urination and hot, dry skin. When these happen, OSHA advises drinking water; moving to a fresh area; cooling off with water, ice or a fan; and removing unnecessary clothing. Heat strokes are more serious. They could manifest as abnormal thinking or behavior, slurred speech, seizures and loss of consciousness. Workers might not realize when they’re displaying heat stroke symptoms and depend on coworkers, supervisors or others for help. In these cases, OSHA recommends immediately calling 911 and cooling the worker with water or ice. To prevent heat injuries, OSHA advises drinking at least one glass of water every 20 minutes, resting from the heat in the shade or in cool places, wearing loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and a hat, and being aware of coworkers.

Last year, the agency launched an education campaign highlighting that 3 out of 4 heat-related deaths occur during the first week of working on a new project. That’s why the agency proposes gradually increasing exposure to the heat as the work week goes by. OSHA recommends not spending more than 20% of the first day’s work shift exposed to the heat and increasing that amount of time by 20% each day until the work week is completed. Texas is hot and humid, which makes it harder to cool the body by sweating and can lead to dehydration, said  the director of Research and Public Health Programs at the National Center for Farmworker Health.

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