August 1, 2012
For construction and agricultural workers as well as others who work outside, high temperatures can pose a significant health risk. Now Maine employees have a new tool in the box—or app on the phone—to keep them safer on the job.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has created a Heat Safety Tool that provides safety information on a mobile phone. Using the app, workers and supervisors can calculate the heat index for their worksite.
“Whether you are harvesting blueberries or paving a road, working outdoors can pose a danger here in Maine when the temperature soars, especially for people not used to being out in hot weather,” Commissioner of Labor Robert Winglass said. “This app is a simple way to keep an eye on both the temperature and worker safety.”
The heat index, a measurement of air temperature in relation to relative humidity, was developed based on studies of skin cooling through the evaporation of sweat. It indicates what the temperature “feels like,” and rises when there is high humidity in addition to high air temperatures.
In Maine, most summers see a few days of 90 degree heat. When it does occur, people are often unused to the higher temperatures, so extra precautions are warranted. Data from the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board’s Employer’s First Report of Occupational Injury or Disease indicates that in each year from 2007 to 2011, an average of between 15 and 20 people missed more than one day of work due to heat related illnesses. The data does not capture people who may have suffered an injury or illness but returned to work the same day or the following day.
Based on the heat index, the heat safety app displays a message for people working outdoors. It also provides reminders for the precautions that should be taken at certain risk levels. These protective measures include drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, and adjusting work operations. The app also provides information on heat illness signs and symptoms and guides supervisors and workers on how to build the workload up gradually for new workers and how employees should monitor each other for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.
The new app is also useful for people to choose to do yard work or play or exercise outdoors during periods of high temperatures.
The app is available for iPhone and Android phones, in either English or Spanish versions, here: www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heatindex/heatapp.html.
People with questions about the new app or any worker safety issue should contact the SafetyWorks! program of the Maine Department of Labor. SafetyWorks! provides health and safety consultations and trainings at no cost to Maine businesses. Those interested in learning more about SafetyWorks! programs should call 207-623-7900 (TTY users should call Maine Relay 711) or visit their website, [www.safetyworksmaine.com] (http://www.safetyworksmaine.com).
The number of workers who missed a full day or more of work due to heat-related illnesses in Maine fluctuates year to year, due in large part to weather conditions. This chart does not represent people who missed less than a full day of work due to heat related illnesses. The data has been compiled by the Research and Statistics Unit of the Bureau of Labor Standards, Maine Department of Labor, using data from the Employer’s First Report of Occupational Injury or Disease of the Workers’ Compensation Board.