From OCRegister.com, The Orange County Register, U.S. Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, 25 Apr 2011.
Water. Rest. Shade. These are three little words that make a big difference for those who work outdoors during the hot summer months.
When I was growing up in La Puente, just north of Orange County, my father worked in a battery recycling plant. He was the union shop steward there. He’d often tell me stories about workers who were injured on the job, doing grueling work at their hot facility. For him, preventing heat-related illnesses and injuries was common sense: “some water and a little time to rest to cool down every now and then.”
I’ll be thinking about him Tuesday, April 25, when I visit the Republic Services CVT Recycling Center in Anaheim, where workers spend hours, both indoors and outdoors, also doing very hard work. The good thing: The management and employees take heat safety very seriously.
There were nearly three dozen heat-related workplace deaths across the country last year, and thousands more suffer heat-related illnesses every year. Heat can be a real danger for workers in jobs ranging from agriculture and landscaping to construction, road repair, airport baggage handling, even car sales. And the percentage of Latino worker fatalities due to outdoor heat exposure was greater than that for white, non-Latino workers.
My father was right. Heat-related illnesses and injuries can be prevented. It just takes some common sense. The team at the recycling center in Anaheim gets that. So does California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Their efforts to address this issue have provided a valuable platform for federal OSHA – an agency at the U.S. Department of Labor – to launch a nationwide campaign to prevent heat illnesses, injury and death.
This campaign aims to educate workers and employers across the country on the hazards of working in the hot outdoors, and provides the steps necessary to prevent them. The campaign includes a website, public service announcements, and materials for both workers and their employers. We’ve partnered with scores of organizations to help us get the word out. Training for both workers and their employers is also a critical component.
This important effort comes at a unique time. Certainly, we’ve launched it as summer approaches, and when hot weather can often be unbearable for anyone. But two other upcoming milestones make this initiative particularly relevant:
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has led the way to significant declines in workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses. OSHA continues to make a difference by ensuring that businesses provide safe and healthful conditions for their workers.
And something else: This Thursday, April 28, is Workers Memorial Day. Across the country, families, friends and even strangers will remember the lives of those who have been injured, sickened or killed on the job. For me, the message of this day is simple: One workplace-related death, injury or illness is one too many. As the nation’s “top cop” on the workplace safety beat, I take that seriously.
Like every workplace injury or death, those related to heat are completely preventable. And when it comes to workplace health and safety, employers have a responsibility and workers have a right. Knowing that, and with common sense approaches, together, we’ll beat the heat.