Photo: OSHA Prevent Heat Campaign and Latinos
On May 14, 2008, a young worker named Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez arrived for her shift at a California vineyard. She was pregnant, and her job required her to spend long hours tying grapevines in the sun. As the day wore on, the temperature soared, eventually reaching triple digits. After nine hours of work, Maria collapsed from heat exhaustion. Two days later, Maria was dead. She was 17 years old.
Maria’s death demonstrates – in the saddest way possible – the risks of heat illness faced by outdoor workers. It also demonstrates – in the most shocking way possible – how easily such tragedies can be prevented. When Maria collapsed, the closest water source was a ten-minute walk away. Areas of shade were nowhere in sight. Even if Maria had been allowed a break, she would have had to choose between water and rest.
Sadly, Maria’s 19-year-old fiancé and her mother in Mexico have been joined by the grieving families of more than 30 workers who perished from heat illnesses last year alone. Thousands more workers become ill from heat exposure each year, which often manifests as heat exhaustion. Some of the highest injury rates are among construction workers, roofers, landscapers, baggage handlers and other air transportation workers, and farm workers.
To combat and prevent heat illness and raise awareness of its dangers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and its State Plan partners have launched a nationwide outreach campaign communicating a very simple message – water, rest, and shade – and educating workers and employers about the hazards of working in extreme heat. We want them to know the steps they can take to prevent heat illness.
Because Latino workers suffer disproportionately from on-the-job heat injuries and illnesses, our heat campaign will particularly reach out to these workers with many of OSHA’s print resources and website information on heat illness prevention available in Spanish. Through the local Federal and State offices, OSHA is also reaching out to employers, associations, worker advocates, consulates, and community and faith-based organizations to get these tools into the hands of those who need them.