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Workplace heat-related illnesses can be prevented

Each year thousands of workers in Pennsylvania and across the country get sick due to working in an excessively hot workplace. In the latest information available from OSHA, in 2012, more than 30 deaths were attributed to workplace heat-related illnesses.

OSHA has made prevention of heat-related illnesses a priority, issuing penalties of as much as $70,000. Employers have a general duty to provide a workplace that is free from hazards likely to cause death. For employees who work outside in the heat or inside in un-ventilated areas, employers can take some simple steps to prevent heat-related illness. The primary step employers can take is acclimatization. When a new or returning employee comes to work, he or she should not be exposed to extreme heat all day from the start. The amount of time in the heat on the first day should be relatively small with the time gradually increasing each day over a two-week period.

Other steps employers can take are to provide frequent breaks and a cool space for water and rest breaks and to schedule the most physically demanding work in the cooler part of the day. OSHA has even developed a smartphone app that takes into account temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun, cloud cover and the heat index to determine when conditions are most likely to cause employees to develop heat-related illnesses.

One of an employer's most important steps in preventing heat-related illnesses is to educate the workforce regarding the symptoms of these illnesses and to develop a protocol for responding to those symptoms. An individual who works in a hot environment and develops a heat-related illness may want to speak with an attorney regarding the employer's efforts to educate and protect its employees. The attorney may be able to investigate the individual's situation and file a complaint with OSHA or a workers' compensation claim if the illness is due to hot work conditions.

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