The Heat Is On for Postal Workers

Jun 7, 2015

Postal worker delivering mail in the city

The heat of summer presents a serious risk of injury to those who work outdoors, including federal postal workers.

When the temperatures begin to rise, the potential for heat-related illnesses becomes a factor during mail carriers’ daily work routine, the Postal Service advises employees in a recent newsletter. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure.

The heat of a summer day can lead to heat cramps, prickly heat and heat exhaustion. In rare cases, heat can even be deadly, the HealthDay online magazine explains.

“Heat stroke occurs when the body’s regulatory system fails and body temperature rises too high, and it can cause brain damage or death,” the magazine states.

OSHA Official: Postal Service’s Approach to Working in Heat ‘Must Change’

In the case of a 28-year Postal Service veteran in Missouri who collapsed and died in July 2012, OSHA ruled last September that the U.S. Postal Service did not have procedures in place to address worker concerns during times of excessive heat. OSHA fined the USPS $70,000.

In a statement about the Missouri postal worker’s death, Barbara Theriot, OSHA’s area director in Kansas City, said:

“[T]he message to [USPS] employees from top management down to supervisors was clear – heat is not an excuse for poor performance. This culture must change. If the Postal Service had trained workers in recognizing the symptoms of heat stroke and taken precautions to ensure workers had access to water, rest and shade, this unfortunate incident may have been avoided.”

How Can Postal Workers Stay Safe in Hot Weather

Postal workers and others who spend time outdoors in the summer should heed these tips from the USPS’s Postal Bulletin newsletter:

  • Hydrate before, during, and after work. Maintain good hydration by drinking at least eight ounces of water every 20 minutes.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather. On warm days, wear light colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing to keep body temperatures down.
  • When possible, use shaded areas to stay out of direct sunlight.
  • Know the signs of heat stress. Understand what heat stress is, and how it can affect your health and safety. Here are some things to look out for:
  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
  • Headache
  • Confusion or dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Rash.

OSHA provides a variety of downloadable information about avoiding injury from heat-related illnesses for distribution in the workplace, including fact sheets, posters, manuals and more.

Deal with Heat Exhaustion Quickly

For postal workers who experience symptoms of heat exhaustion, it is essential to immediately get out of the heat and rest, preferably in an air-conditioned room or at least in a cool and shady place, according to WebMD.

Drink plenty of fluids and remove any tight or unnecessary clothing.

After recovering, you will probably be more sensitive to high temperatures for about a week, WebMD states. It is best to avoid hot weather and heavy exercise until your doctor tells you that it is safe to resume your normal activities.

If your efforts to cool down do not provide relief from heat exhaustion symptoms within about 15 minutes, seek emergency medical help. Untreated heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke.

Heat stroke means your body temperature has become abnormally elevated (104°F or higher). The symptoms of heat stroke are not much different from those of heat exhaustion, including nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headache, dizziness, rapid breathing, disorientation and more. Even with immediate treatment, it can be life-threatening or result in serious, long-term complications.

We hope this information has been useful to postal workers, and we wish everyone a safe and healthy summer season.

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