Heat-Related Illness Violation Cited at USPS

Heat-related illness cited at Des Moines USPS facility after employee suffered heat stroke on the job.A heat-related illness violation was cited during a recent inspection by the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to the United States Postal Service, following a June 9th inspection of a Des Moines USPS facility, which was prompted by a heat-related employee illness.

The OSHA inspection showed that the employee in question, a lady of twenty-four years, suffered a heat-stroke, a common heat-related illness, due to being exposed to extreme heat. The employee had reported to her supervisor that she was feeling ill and asked to be relieved of her duty, after walking roughly half of her eleven-mile route, in temperatures that exceeded 93 degrees. Since January of 2016, have investigated a total of sixteen heat-related deaths Subsequently, the USPS employee missed three days of work in recovery from her illness. Upon inspection, OSHA also learned that another employee from the same facility, a forty-seven-year-old female carrier, required transport to a local emergency room, due to another heat-related illness, which was suffered on a workday in which temperatures exceeded 111 degrees. The second heat-related illness occurred roughly one month from the report of the initial illness.

OSHA proposed a penalty of $68,591 for the citation, which featured a repeat violation. This “repeat” classification came as a result of the fact that OSHA issued a previous citation to the USPS, in July of 2012, prompted the heat-related death of a mail-carrier in Independence, Missouri.

OSHA asserts that all of the aforementioned heat-related injuries are preventable via a proactive approach, through heat prevention and acclimatization programming. OSHA recommends:

• Implementation of supervisor and employee training for proper response to reports of heat-reduced illness symptoms

• Requisite supervisor training for in-field evaluation of heat-related symptoms

• Establishment and subsequent implementation of rules which mandate those employees experiencing heat-stress symptoms to seek immediate assistance and evaluation

Des Moines OSHA area director, Larry Davidson, said, “Heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable when employers help workers acclimate to hot environments, allow frequent water breaks, ample time to rest, and provide shade. Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Employers must keep this in mind and plan additional precautions for working in these conditions.”

As weather is not an element that any employer or employee has direct control over, most heat-related injuries are often chalked-up as unavoidable. However, there are a number of identifiable factors which can contribute to a heat-related illness. A clear-cut evaluation protocol for such injuries can prevent exacerbation, in the case of an existent injury, possibly even preventing death. One resource that employers can utilize is an OSHA-approved on-site training or online course.