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Saunas in Massachusetts Should Be Aware of Dangers to Workers

The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Health and Safety Administration recently cited a Korean-style spa located out of state after a 68-year-old worker died there. This style of spa is known for the high temperatures it maintains as the style of its saunas. The worker was responsible for setting up the sauna. Although the spa was not in Massachusetts and there aren’t that many Korean-style spas in the United States, this style is becoming more and more popular. The citation has bearing on all saunas here and elsewhere.

OSHA’s local director in charge of the citation noted that all saunas should guard against employees getting too much heat exposure in order to prevent future similar happenings. Among the things the director noted was that a sauna should have an employee rotation schedule. This would ensure that no one worker has prolonged exposure to heat. Employers should also make sure they know of emergency procedures and also that they know about medications and medical conditions that increase the threat of heat-related illnesses.

The sauna in this case cooperated with the investigation. There were eight serious and one less serious health and safety violations. A serious violation occurs when an employer knows or should know of a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm.

The violations included (1) failure to follow a heat stress illness prevention program, (2) failure to offer protective equipment to employees in excessively high heat situations, (3) failure to put together a written program about how to communicate hazards, (4) failure o give workers training and appropriate information, (5) failure to use danger tags to warn of thermal burn hazards and carbon monoxide, (6) failure to offer training to an employee expected to use a fire extinguisher, and (7) failure to evaluate the confined areas of the workplace for issues of permitting.

The issues raised by this citation are not limited to saunas. Any worker who works in extreme heat or hot environments is placed at risk for heat stress illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rashes, as well as burns. This includes firefighters, construction workers such as welders, miners, factory workers, baker workers, and others.

Workers at particular risk are those who are overweight, those over age 65, and those with a heart condition. Heat stroke, the most serious disorder involving heat, happens if a body is not able to control its temperature. This can lead to the body’s temperature getting to 106 degrees or more in 10 minutes. The extremely short window in which heat stroke can develop is important to note as it provides one reason why it is so crucial for employers to rotate employees who work in saunas or other high-heat areas and to be cognizant of the signs of heat stroke.

Among the signs of heat stroke are slurred speech, confusion, high body temperature, hallucination, chills, profuse sweating and hot skin. A worker who exhibits these signs may need a coworker or employer to call 911. He should immediately be taken out of the hot area and cooled with cold water and fanned.

If you are hurt on the job, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. An experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate whether you have a sound claim and fight to make sure that your employer and its insurer follow the rules. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.

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