Heat Stress Illness and Death


In 2014 alone, 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job. Heat illnesses and deaths are preventable. OSHA website:

Heat stress and heat related illnesses are far too prevalent and yet totally preventable. There are currently many employers and refinery plant owners that ignore state of the art science for determining heat stress conditions. Companies still use temperature as the sole factor while others might include humidty. However, the state of the art for heat stress prevention is use of the WetBulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) is a measure of the heat stress in direct sunlight, which takes into account: temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover (solar radiation). This is completely unlike a heat index, which takes into consideration temperature and humidity and is calculated for shady areas. A Wet Bulb Globe Thermometer can be purchased for around $120.

In addition, most heat stress prevention plans in place currently at major refineries and chemical plants still disregards the clothing being worn by the worker and the amount of stress in the job being performed. When workers in chemical plants and refineries are required to wear chemical suits – Tychem or the like – their bodies are trapped inside material that increases body temperatures rapidly. If a worker is in his Nomax and a chemical suit and then is doing a stressful job, his core body temperature can reach well over 104 degrees rapidly.

Naturally, hydration is critical as well. Clay Dugas states repeatedly to any worker that will listen:

“If you start drinking water when you realize you are thirsty, it is already too late. ”

If you know you are going to be working in a hot and humid environment with or without a chemical suit, drink water beforehand in preparation for the work. That way your body is already hydrated. If you wait until you realize you need to drink water, you may find yourself in heat stress or far worse – heat stroke.

That is a lot of injuries and far too many deaths. While this article by OSHA is focused on outdoor workers and the majority of those being agricultural workers, it is clear that the same issues involving heat stress and injury are in play for the workers in Southeast Texas and the Houston area.

From Orange to Beaumont to Houston to Corpus Christi, workers are required to wear heavy protective clothing including Nomex suits and sometimes Tychem suits over that. The entire Texas Gulf Coast is hot and humid for 8 to 9 months of the year.

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