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Weather Forecasters: Summer's Unsung Heroes

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On June 19, 2014,  the Occupational Safety and Health Administration  (OSHA) and the National Weather Service  hosted a teleconference participated by meteorologists and weather forecasters nationwide. This national event  was held as part of OSHA's Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers, which aims to educate employers and workers about the dangers of working outdoors in extreme heat.  The Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez delivered remarks  and asserted "Weather forecasters are often the go-to sources for life-saving information.  We hope they will help us in spreading this important message about the dangers of working in extreme heat."

The following is the Secretary of the  U.S. Department of Labor Tom Perez's blog post, Weather Forecasters: Summer's Unsung Heroes.

 When severe weather strikes, we often turn to meteorologists and weather forecasters for life-saving information.  Tina Eller of Atlanta told the New York Times that her local weatherman, Glenn Burns, saved the lives of her and her family in 2011 by issuing an on-air warning to take cover when a tornado was minutes away from ravaging her community.

Ms. Eller huddled with her family, including her mother, sisters and two dogs, in a small closet.  When they emerged, everything in the house except for the closet was wrecked.  “It was that warning that got us into the closet on time,” she said.  “I never would have lived through it.”

As our nation continues to experience the effects of severe weather and climate change, weather forecasters and meteorologists are becoming an even more critical source of information when it comes to knowing when all types of severe weather will strike, and helping us prepare for it.

That’s why the Department of Labor is enlisting the help of meteorologists and forecasters in our efforts to educate the public about the dangers of extreme heat.

On average, heat waves kill more people each year than any other extreme weather event in the U.S., and heat represents a hazard not just for the elderly and young children, but for athletes, military members and workers. People working in outdoor industries like agriculture, construction and transportation are particularly susceptible to heat-related illnesses and fatalities.  Over the past 10 years, nearly 400 workers died and more than 25,000 became sick due to heat exposure. In 2012 alone, there were 31 heat-related worker deaths and 4,120 heat-related worker illnesses.

Through its Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers, our Occupational Safety and Health Administration aims to raise awareness and educate employers and employees about the dangers of working in hot weather.  By gradually increasing workers’ exposure to heat, enabling them to take frequent water breaks and rest in the shade, employers can significantly reduce the risk of heat-related illness in their workers.

OSHA has also released a free application for Android-based mobile devices and iPhones that enables workers and supervisors to monitor the heat index (actual temperature plus humidity), at their work sites, and provides reminders about protective measures that should be taken according to risk level.

And as we have done in years past, we are partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service to reach out to meteorologists and weather forecasters to help us spread this simple, yet critical message about preventing illness and fatalities in outdoor workers.

These days, weather is big news, and when it comes to dangerous conditions such as extreme heat, meteorologists and weather forecasters can be the difference between life and death.   Just ask Tina Eller.

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