Deadly Temperatures Haunt Workers

By

June 15th, 2021

Heat guy. Photo Provided by, OSHA

OMAHA – In a three-story building near 38th and Harney streets, a crew of eight roofers pastes the underlayment or roofing tar paper, which goes between the roof deck and the shingles. This adds another layer of protection to the roof.

On a roof with an angle of 45 degrees, harnessed workers walk nimbly on the heights, almost as if they dance to the rhythm of the nail gun.

For the crew, building height and steep angles do not undermine them as much as the adverse weather that is hitting Omaha these days. Around three in the afternoon, the heat approaches 100 degrees. Up there on the roof after installing the felt paper, the temperature rises about 10 to 15 degrees.

Farm. Photo by Jake Gard

“Once I worked with a 105 temperature.”

That’s Walter Vladimir. Now he drives the truck that takes away the old roof, but he remembers working on the roofs on hot days.

“To do siding you have to climb up to make them gables and that is when you realize how hot it is,” Vladimir said.

Ice water and other hydrating drinks are not enough to mitigate the heat. Accidents related to heat stress are very common among outdoor workers. This is where OSHA regulations come into place.

“OSHA’s primary function is to ensure that the employers are providing a safe workplace for employers to work in,” said Matt Thurlby, OSHA Director for the Omaha Area. “Our job is to review regulations, provide outreach and assistance to employers and employees, and ensure regulatory compliance of the existing rules and regulations that are in place. As part of that we also have our general duty clause and this is where heat stress and heat prevention campaigns fall in regards to OSHA reinforcements actions. So we look at heat-related illnesses, specifically occupational-related has been an occupational safety and health issue.”

Thurlby said OSHA has been running a campaign since 2011, to report and prevent heat-related accidents.

“The element to look at is water, rest and shade, that is the campaign slogan we use for heat stress,” Thurlby said.

OSHA campaign to prevent heat stress. Photo by OSHA

Although OSHA is not specifically dedicated to patrolling workplaces to see working conditions when there are high temperatures, they can show up at any time and verify environments.

“OSHA does not have the authority to stop work without a court order,” Thurlby said.

Workers can make reports of working conditions when they consider it necessary, and the reports can be made anonymously if they wish. The report can be made to request an onsite inspection.

“Generally speaking, if we have a complaint, we have five days to respond to the job site, 24 hours if it is the phone and fax mechanism,” Thurlby said. “It is the fastest way to remove employees from risk. The other thing is that it is unknown to the employers that we are coming. We do not give advanced notice so we will never tell anyone when we are on our way.”

Anyone can call and report working conditions, employees, employers, or any citizen who can identify when the heat hits hard. We must keep in mind that up there on the buildings or houses, the temperature can be up to 15 degrees higher.

For more information, one can call OSHA locally at 402-553-0171 or visit www.OSHA.gov.

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