State's safety overseer warns of heat hazards


Marylanders might be feeling wilted by the recent spell of 90-degree-plus temperatures, but for some workers the heat can be more than uncomfortable -- it can be dangerous.

Craig Lowry, chief of enforcement for Maryland Occupational Safety and Health, said the riskiest jobs for heat-related illness include work in steel mills, asphalt paving and roofing. He described three stages of heat-related illness:

*Heat stress, characterized by symptoms such as dizziness, headache, nausea.

*Heat cramps, in which the major muscles lose fluids and contract painfully.

*Heat stroke, an emergency situation in which the skin becomes dry and hot, internal body temperature rises, and vital organs can be harmed.

Lowry said the three stages can progress quickly. At the first symptoms, an employee should stop work and drink liquids. In more serious cases, salt tablets may be prescribed by a doctor.

Although workers are at risk when temperatures climb into the 90s and approach 100 degrees, several factors determine the onset of sickness. Lowry said the risk becomes greater over a period of several days of hot weather. Obese and elderly people are at more risk. And people who are not accustomed to hot weather may suffer more than those who are.

Lowry said he knows of no recent heat-related deaths in the workplace, but said two workers at the Bethlehem Steel plant at Sparrows Point died several years ago from heat-related illness.

MOSH, which is responsible for enforcing health and safety laws in Maryland's workplaces, measures heat risk on routine job site inspections or in response to worker complaints. But, because so many factors can influence whether workers become sick, Lowry said, it is difficult to catch every potential hazard.

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