The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited a North Point, Florida-based employer following an employee’s heat-related death in the Apalachicola National Forest. Agency inspectors found that Earthbalance Corp. had exposed workers to hazards related to high ambient heat and failed to adequately train someone to perform first aid and ensure he or she was available to render assistance in heat-related emergencies. Earthbalance faces $24,576 in proposed penalties.
On July 30, 2021, as temperatures neared 100 degrees, an Earthbalance supervisor saw a 42-year-old member of the crews assigned to clear invasive plants sweating heavily; his hands were trembling, and he seemed confused and unable to respond to commands.
The worker rested while other employees finished their tasks. The supervisor returned 30 minutes later to find the man unresponsive. Without a cell phone signal, workers had to get help from a ranger station 14 miles away from the jobsite. By the time an ambulance became available, the worker had stopped breathing, and responders found no pulse. The worker was transported to a hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead.
“Earthbalance Corp. failed to protect their employees from the dangers from extreme temperatures and take actions that may have prevented a worker’s death,” Nolan Houser, OSHA’s Jacksonville, Florida, acting area director, said in a statement.
“We encourage employers to reach out to the agency’s staff and use our free resources for recognizing and mitigating heat-related hazards to ensure their workers have every opportunity to return home safely at the end of the day.”
The agency cited Earthbalance with serious violations of the medical services and first-aid standard and the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA cites employers under the General Duty Clause in instances of heat stress or other heat-related illnesses because there is no federal standard for heat illness prevention or hot environments.
OSHA investigators found that Earthbalance had failed to provide first aid to employees working in a remote area of the forest where no clinic, hospital, or infirmary was available in the event of severe injury or illness. Investigators also concluded that the employer should have:
- Developed and implemented an effective heat-related illness prevention program;
- Provided an employee training program regarding the health effects associated with heat stress, symptoms of heat-induced illness, and methods of preventing heat-related illnesses;
- Established a medical screening program to identify employees with health conditions that could be aggravated by exposure to heat stress;
- Established a procedure for acclimatizing employees who are not accustomed to working in hot environments or those returning from extended absences from work;
- Implemented work/rest procedures geared toward environmental conditions;
- Rescheduled work for cooler periods of the day;
- Ensured that employees in the field had adequate amounts of cool (50–60 degrees Fahrenheit), potable water and electrolyte replacements, encouraging employees to drink 5 to 7 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes;
- Provided equipment such as cooling bandanas, cooling vests, or other equipment that may help prevent overheating;
- Developed and implemented procedures for identifying appropriate rest locations where employees have adequate facilities for climate-controlled air or shade during their work shift;
- Developed and implemented a system to alert employees to the heat index anticipated for the day and informed employees of precautions they should take to reduce the risk of heat-related illness;
- Developed and implemented a system to check and monitor employees in the field when the National Weather Service heat advisories are in effect, or when the heat index exceeds or is expected to exceed 91 degrees;
- Established work rules instructing employees to report heat stress symptoms to managers or supervisors and to seek assistance and evaluation when experiencing them; and
- Conducted in-person evaluations of employees complaining of or exhibiting heat-related illness symptoms and arranged for medical attention or other assistance as necessary, which may include providing first aid to an employee.
In March 2019, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission vacated OSHA citations in a heat-related death, criticizing the agency’s reliance on the General Duty Clause and pointing out employers’ difficulty in addressing hazards like excessive heat for which there are no established federal standards.
On October 27, 2021, OSHA issued an advance notice of proposal rulemaking (ANPRM) on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings following a White House announcement of interagency actions to address the hazards of excessive heat.
The ANPRM contained no proposed regulatory text but posed 114 questions about a potential standard. Comments on the ANPRM are due January 26.