US Department of Labor cites Alabama construction employer after heat illness claims life of 33-year-old worker at Huntsville job site

US Department of Labor cites Alabama construction employer after heat illness claims life of 33-year-old worker at Huntsville job site

SJ&L General Contractor LLC exposed workers to extreme temperatures without rest, shade

HUNTSVILLE, AL – During the peak of summer in July 2023, a 33-year-old concrete finisher collapsed at a Huntsville construction site after showing clear signs of heat illness, a tragedy that federal safety investigators found can have been prevented had the employer followed established safety practices for heat hazards.

An investigation by the United States. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration into the July 28, 2023, fatality found workers of SJ&L General Contractor LLC were hand forming concrete curbs when – as the heat index neared 107 degrees and humidity climbed to 85 percent – the worker was seen by coworkers stumbling, talking incoherently and eventually vomiting before becoming unresponsive. Though employees provided first aid and paramedics transported the worker to the hospital, the worker died only two hours after being admitted.

OSHA investigators determined that SJ&L General Contractor LLC exposed this worker and 18 other employees to hazards of extreme heat while working outside in direct sun during their 10-hour shifts.

“Had the employer ensured access to shade and rest in this brutal heat, this worker might not have lost their life and might have been able to end their shift safely,” said OSHA Area Office Director Joel Batiz in Birmingham, Alabama. “Regardless of the season – summer or winter – employers must establish rest cycles, train workers in identifying signs and symptoms of weather exposure, ensure workers have time to acclimate to temperatures, and implement and follow safety plans and ensure those plans are monitored. If not, weather conditions can have severe – and sadly, sometimes fatal – consequences, as they did in this case.” 

OSHA determined SJ&L General Contractor LLC exposed workers to hazards associated with high heat while working in direct sunlight. The employer faces $16,131 in proposed penalties, an amount set by federal statute.  

Increasing summer temperatures continue to impact workers. Fatalities due to exposure to extreme temperatures increased 18.6 percent in 2022, rising to 51 from 43 in 2021. Fatalities specifically due to environmental heat were 43 in 2022, up from 36 in 2021

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA has a number of resources that can assist employers and help workers stay safe while working in outdoor and indoor heat environments, including a heat safety tool that allows employers and workers to calculate the heat index and risk level to workers and follow protective measures to maximize safety. 

Also, as the winter gets underway throughout the nation, OSHA urges employers to visit the agency’s winter safety page to understand the dangers of cold-weather hazards in the workplace and view resources to help recognize and reduce risks by planning, equipping and training workers. 

Learn more about OSHA.

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