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Safety Experts Caution Contractors About Hot Weather Danger in Wake of Tucson Death

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The heat wave afflicting much of the U.S. claimed a construction worker near Tucson—a stark reminder of the danger heat poses to those in the building trades. Mark Geise, 44, died of apparent heat-related illness on June 19 while constructing a propane filling station at a Costco store. A resident of Indiana, Geise was employed by Seese Construction, Monrovia, Ind., according to his obituary.

Photo by Aileen Cho/ENR
Workers should take refuge in a shady, relatively cool spot and rehydrate if heat-related illness symptoms occur.
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The Marana Police Dept. and OSHA are investigating. It was the third heat-related death of an out-of-state resident in Tucson in the past month (the others were not construction related). After Geise collapsed at around 4:30 p.m., bystanders called 911 and began CPR. Arriving five minutes later, paramedics began advanced life support on Geise, which included CPR, heart monitoring, drugs and intravenous therapy, but were unable to revive him after 20 minutes, when he was pronounced dead at the scene, says Capt. Adam Goldberg of the Northwest Fire Rescue District.

According to witnesses, Geise became more fatigued throughout the day and was very thirsty; on the jobsite, temperatures reached 106˚F. However, in the two hours prior to the 911 call, he couldn't keep water down due to dry heaves.

Goldberg says workers and supervisors can be proactive by watching for symptoms and immediately getting the person hydrated and into a cooler environment. When in doubt, call 911; bringing in rescue workers before the worker's condition is critical could save a life. "Calling emergency services to evaluate a worker you believe has suffered from a heat related illness doesn't cost a dime," Goldberg says. "If you don't have this person evaluated, and they really have a problem, now you have a workplace incident."

Watching for symptoms of heat-related illness—weakness, taking breaks, lack of sweat, nausea and vomiting—is even more critical for someone who isn't used to the region's intense summer climate. "Acclimation is something that not enough people seem to follow," says Bruce Trethewy, communications manager with SCF Arizona, a Phoenix-based provider of worker's compensation insurance. "Workers should be allowed to become acclimatized by working progressively longer periods in the heat." He also advises employers to monitor those at a higher risk for heat-related illness, provide rests with water in a cool break area and schedule the most strenuous work for early-morning hours.

"It's really incumbent upon the individual to listen to their own body," Goldberg says. " If you feel something abnormal or you are having some symptom, it's time to stop." Employees should skip drinking alcohol the night before a big outdoor asphalt pour or other intense job. Once you experience symptoms, recognize that one 10-minute break probably isn't going to bring you back to 100%. "It takes a toll on the body, and usually requires a good 12-24 hours to truly recover from dehydration and heat-related illness," Goldberg says.

Subcontractors throughout Arizona know that heat is deadly, says Jim Kuliesh, president/CEO of the Alliance for Construction Trades in Tucson. "I've been here 17 years, and we've never had a heat-related death to any of our subcontractors' employees."

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