Story from the Red Cross about heat and worker safety

Rebuilding Joplin is a hot, dirty job and the Red Cross cautions “be safe”

JOPLIN, MO – July 1, 2011 – Temperatures have been hitting 100o F in Joplin, MO this week. It is now 40 days after an EF5 tornado struck destroying more than 30% of the city. The entire region has responded to help the battered residents cleaning up debris and getting their lives back to normal, and the American Red Cross has been there from the day that the tornado hit with shelter, food and water, clean-up supplies and emotional support for Joplin's residents.

The Red Cross has a double concern about residents and contractors working to clean up debris during this period of high heat advisories. Red Cross emergency response vehicles (ERVs) have been distributing water and ice throughout neighborhoods and cautioning workers to be heat-safe and cleanup-safe.

“Everyone is at risk when temperatures rise above 90 degrees,” said Brian Keath, Director of Emergency Services for the Greater Ozarks Chapter of the American Red Cross. “This week has been especially stressful for workers out in the heat raking and shoveling tornado debris. They need to be aware that they are susceptible to heat and heat-related illnesses, and need to take care of themselves.”

“Our crew is demolishing several homes that the tornado destroyed,” said Gary Sommer, a contractor from Osceola who has been working in Joplin for the last eleven days. “With this heat, we start work early in the morning and take breaks.” Following their own advice, Sommer and his three crewmates took a breather from their work to get cold drinks from the Red Cross ERV as it came down the street.

The American Red Cross recommends that everyone try to stay cool and safe during hot weather. Dress for the heat, drink plenty of water or juice, eat small meals and eat more often, slow down, work during the coolest part of the day, and look out for co-workers for signs of heat-related illnesses.

Heat-related illnesses can cause serious injury and even death if untreated. Signs of heat-related illnesses include nausea, dizziness, flushed or pale skin, heavy sweating and headaches. Victims of heat-related illness should be moved to a cool place, given cool water to drink and ice packs or cool wet cloths should be applied to the skin. If a victim refuses water, vomits, or loses consciousness, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately. More information on heat related illnesses and prevention can be found at: <>

Lew Burdette, RN is the Disaster Health Services Manager for Joplin Tornado Disaster Operations. He cautions cleanup workers to use common sense to keep themselves safe from work-related injuries. “The two most common problems that people working in the debris encounter are punctures from nails or sharp metal and skin dermatitis caused by irritants in contact with their skin,” he said. “Both are easy to prevent, and the Red Cross recommends that everyone have proper clothing and use safe-work habits.” Burdette recommends long sleeve shirts and pants, a good hat and sun screen, gloves, and most importantly sturdy shoes to prevent punctures from nails. “No flip-flops or thin-soled tennis shoes, please,” he said. “And don't forget to get a tetanus shot, just in case of an injury. There are several places in Joplin to get a shot – it is good insurance.”

Lisa and Borde Williams are volunteers from New Mexico who have come to Joplin to help the town cleanup. The Red Cross ERV making rounds through the tornado-devastated neighborhoods found them raking debris from the yard of Christopher Richardson's severely damaged home at 2431 Annie Baxter St. “It is hot and dirty work, but everyone is pulling together and we know that Joplin will get back on its feet.”

She added, “And we know from working on our ranch in New Mexico about proper clothing and keeping ourselves safe. We need to pace ourselves and keep hydrated.” They couldn't have conveyed the Red Cross heat-safety and work-safe messages more succinctly.


There are photos to accompany the story at this link:

Allen Crabtree
American Red Cross of Southern Maine
Public Affairs
(207) 653-9271 cell


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