Protecting Boston Workers from the Effects of Extreme Heat
Extreme heat can be dangerous and even fatal for Boston workers. To ensure the health and safety of our workers, we are sharing tips and resources. Learn more below.
Extreme heat is making work more dangerous.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that between 2015 and 2019, environmental heat cases resulted in an average of 35 fatalities per year and an average of 2,700 cases with days away from work. However, the total number of heat-related fatalities may be underreported and improperly diagnosed. The cause of death is often listed as a heart attack when the actual cause or aggravating cause may have been exposure to a heat-related hazard. Heat-related illnesses range from heat cramps to heat stroke, which can potentially lead to death. Between 2015 and 2020, Federal OSHA conducted approximately 200 heat-related hazard inspections each year, which included approximately 15 heat-related fatality inspections annually.* In Massachusetts, there were almost 400 emergency department visits associated with heat-related injury or illness between 2016 and 2019.
Black and Brown workers are disproportionately represented in heat related deaths.
Those who work in some of the most dangerous conditions for heat exposure with few worker protections, such as those in agriculture, construction, grounds maintenance, landscaping, road work, roofing, and warehouses, are particularly at risk. A 2019 study found that Black construction workers were on average 51% more likely to die from heat and Mexican-born workers were 91% more likely.*
Every heat-related illness, injury and fatality is avoidable.
With an altered work schedule and/or access to clean water and breaks in a cool location, workers can get the reprieve they need to cool down. The opportunity to gradually acclimate to the working conditions allows workers to build up a tolerance for laboring in the heat — a critical process to combat the high rates of heat-related fatalities in the first few days of work. An employer can prevent the harmful consequences of heat stress by training all workers and managers on the signs and symptoms of heat-illness and having clear procedures in place to provide aid to workers in crisis.*
An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should develop a heat illness prevention program (in English and other relevant languages) which includes:
- Procedures for providing sufficient water
- Procedures for providing access to shade
- High-heat procedures
- Emergency response procedures
- Acclimatization methods and procedures
- Effective Communications
- Weather monitoring
All workers and supervisors exposed to high temperatures should receive training that includes:
- Health effects of heat stress, heat illnesses signs and symptoms
- Use of a buddy system to help monitor each other
- Emergency procedures
- Personal risk factors
- Your right to stop work if you have symptoms
- Rest break schedules
- Hydration, electrolytes
- Controls to reduce risk of heat stress
- How to monitor/measure heat stress risk
- Federal/State requirements/standards
For more information for workers and employers on how to stay safe in excessive heat visit osha.gov/heat.
Learn more about heat safety at boston.gov/heat.