Earlier this year, a 45-year-old pipefitter died from heat exposure while working outdoors in four layers of clothing, including a chemical suit. In an ensuing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection, officials found the man's employer had no heat management programs for its workers, who were exposed to excessive heat while wearing chemical resistant encapsulating suits. The company, JV Industrial Cos. Ltd., now faces a $7,000 penalty, the maximum for a serious violation.
"While the temperature outdoors was 83 degrees, JV Industrial failed to take into consideration the increased heat stress caused by the specialized clothing being worn by the workers as they cut and removed the piping," said Dorinda Folse, OSHA's area director in Baton Rouge. "A life was needlessly lost because the employer failed to implement a heat management program to protect workers."
JV Industrial, a contract company specializing in turnaround activity at chemical and refinery plants, employs about 2,400 workers at eight operation offices. They had been contracted by Valero St. Charles Refinery in Norco, La., to demolish piping in a sulfuric acid alkylation unit when the employee passed away.
To combat heat-related illness, which affects thousands of workers every year, OSHA recommends implementing both engineering controls and heat-specific work practices.
Engineering controls are practices that reduce workers' exposure to heat by making the environment cooler. These include:
- Air conditioning in crane or construction equipment cabs and in break rooms
- Increased ventilation
- Cooling fans
- Local exhaust ventilation for points of high heat production or moisture
- Reflective shields that redirect radiant heat
- Insulation of hot surfaces, such as furnace walls
- Elimination of steam leaks.
OSHA health and safety guidelines also state that employers should emphasize safe work habits in their worksite training plans for high-heat jobs. These best practices may include, but are not limited to, defining work/rest cycles, drinking water often and providing an opportunity for workers to build up a level of tolerance to working in the heat.
For help developing a workplace safety program, contact Safety Advantage today and ask about our professional compliance solutions.