Last month, a 42-year-old auto factory worker in LaGrange died after having collapsed in the sweltering heat inside the plant.
While our Atlanta workers' compensation attorneys understand that the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration has launched an investigation into the incident, the local newspaper reported that anonymous employees contend the air conditioning in the factory was not properly working. The workers said conditions were so hot that the chocolate in the vending machines of the break room had melted.
Additionally, workers said management had been reluctant to call emergency services.
This is not the first incident at the plant. In 2012, two workers were seriously injured when a crane hit a basket lift they were in while doing maintenance work. In another case three years ago, a worker suffered a fatal fall. Following that last incident, the firm was fined nearly $136,000.
The company is about 70 miles west of the Atlanta border.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in the automobile and vehicle manufacturing industry tend to experience higher than average rates of illness and injury than those in other fields. In fact, the industry reported an injury rate that was 40 percent higher than the total private industry injury rate in 2011.
Still, especially during the summer in Georgia, heat-related illnesses should be a concern in every industry.
OSHA recently kicked off an awareness campaign, which features a heat illness fatality map that shows where the majority of these deaths have been. The Atlanta-area was a hot-spot (as were parts of Texas, North Carolina and West Virginia.)
As a state in a sub-tropical climate, are summers are especially hot and humid, with temperatures regularly spiking into the mid-to-high 90s.
While the recent auto worker case is one example, the truth is that any employee who is exposed to hot or humid conditions may be at risk, particularly if they are wearing bulky protective gear and clothing or if they are doing heavy work tasks. Those who may not have built up a tolerance to hot conditions may also be especially at risk.
Normally, a person's body would work to cool itself by sweating. But when conditions are very hot and the humidity is high, sweating isn't enough to cool and body temperature can rise to dangerous levels. This can cause anything from a rash to cramping to exhaustion to stroke. It may even result in death if the person does not receive immediate medical attention.
OSHA reports that more than 30 workers have died annually of heat stroke since 2003. The federal agency recently teamed up with the Associated General Contractors of Georgia Inc. to conduct safety sessions throughout the state, which will involve more than 1,100 job sites and some 50,000 workers. Ninety percent of those are in the construction field.
Georgia doesn't have its own laws relative to heat prevention in the workplace, so those standards are set by the federal General Duty Clause, which is part of the Occupational Safety & Health Act. This measure mandates that employers provide a workplace that is free from any hazards that are causing or that could cause serious harm or death to workers.
Employers can expect a fine of up to $7,000 for not correcting a heat hazard, as they are deemed a serious violation by OSHA.
Among the steps that OSHA recommends for employers:
Provide air conditioned or shaded areas that are close to the work site, and allow for regular rest breaks.
Give workers lots of cold water in a place that is visible and convenient.
Encourage employees to drink before they get thirsty, approximately every 15 minutes.
Regularly keep an eye on weather reports and reschedule high heat exposure jobs to times of the day when it will be cooler.