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Heat suspected in postal worker's death in Medford, Massachusetts

Many workers in Massachusetts may be aware that workers' compensation laws provide benefits for people injured in work-related accidents. Others may be aware that injuries that develop over time from work-related tasks--injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome--are addressed under the same compensation system.

But, environmental issues may also lead to work-related illnesses covered under workers' compensation laws. Exposure to toxins at work, for example, may be the cause of an occupational illness. Some exposures occur in an event where the toxins are released during an event. Others may involve exposure to toxins over a long period of time. Similarly, a worker may be exposed to other environmental issues that can result in medical harm.

During the summer in Massachusetts, the temperatures may rise to levels that expose outdoor workers--such as construction workers, grounds crews and employees in many other outdoor occupations—the the potential for heat-related illnesses. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that thousands of outdoor workers suffer work-related illnesses from exposure to heat each year.

A recent story from Medford, Massachusetts highlights how dangerous heat-related illness can be for an outdoor worker. OSHA is investigating the death of a postal worker who collapsed Friday afternoon during oppressive heat in Massachusetts.

A witness reportedly saw the man collapse Friday afternoon—the passerby called authorities for assistance. Emergency Medical Technicians from the Medford Fire Department arrived to find the man unresponsive, but alive in the mid-90 degree heat. The man succumbed to his health issues Saturday morning at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The man’s wife says that she had packed cold water and Gatorade for her husband, which he took to the job Friday morning. However, she says that he texted throughout the day about the excessive heat, according to the Boston Globe.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Safety and Health is calling on work safety officials to create more aggressive standards in regulations to protect workers—including workers who are exposed to heat indoors—from illnesses that can be caused by exposure to extreme heat. OSHA has been running an annual campaign since 2011 aimed at raising awareness of heat-related illnesses.

Source: The Boston Globe, “Letter carrier complained about heat before collapse," Meghan E. Irons, July 10, 2013; U.S. Department of Labor, “Welcome to OSHA's Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers,” last accessed July 11, 2013

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