Heat Stress Victim Profile

The Preventable Death of Juan Jose Soriano

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: July 9th, 2012
Topics: Heat & Cold Stress |

migrant workers working on grapevinesThe August 2006 death of a tobacco farm worker in North Carolina shows that simply offering a victim water and a place to rest isn’t enough to protect a victim from heat stress.

The Heat Stress Tragedy of Juan Jose Soriano

Juan Jose Soriano, a 44-year-old father of 5, worked for several hours in humid 100°F (38°C) heat before telling his crew leader that he didn’t feel well. Soriano was given some water, driven back to the workers’ housing area and left alone to rest.

About 45 minutes later, he was discovered unconscious outside. Soriano was pronounced dead from heat stroke at a local hospital. His core body temperature was 108°F (42°C), well above normal body temperature of 98.6°F (37°C).

A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) investigation found that workers at the tobacco farm toiled for exceptionally long hours. They were allowed a one-hour mid-morning break, during which they were offered soda and crackers. A one-hour lunch break was their last of the day.

Workers took their breaks in a shaded area, where soda, sports drinks and water were always available. Although worker housing met all the housing requirements of the Migrant Housing Act of North Carolina, there were no fans or air-conditioning.

What Went Wrong

Although the conditions were harsh, appropriate heat stress prevention might have prevented the series of mistakes that ultimately cost Mr. Soriano his life:

  • The employer had distributed a Spanish-language safety/health booklet that included information on heat illness and heat stroke but didn’t require workers to read it. He also didn’t discuss heat illness with them.
  • Victims like Mr. Soriano who show symptoms of heat exhaustion (including heavy sweating, paleness, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea/vomiting, fainting, excessive thirst, dry mouth and dark yellow urine) need to be treated and watched not left alone to rest the way Mr. Soriano was.
  • Heat stroke victims like Mr. Soriano also need to be cooled with a hose or in a tub of cold water before professional medical help arrives. It simply isn’t enough to provide water and remove the victim to shade.
  • Although the workers could drink as much soda, water or sports drink as they wanted, they weren’t told that they needed to drink it frequently to stay hydrated and nobody supervised their fluid intake.

“In this incident, the worker complained of not feeling well, but instead of receiving medical attention, he was left alone to rest,” states the NIOSH investigation report. “Heat stroke is a life-threatening illness, and medical care must be administered immediately to prevent permanent disability or death.”

Don’t Let This Happen at Your Workplace!

Use SafetySmart Compliance’s Heat Stress Compliance Plan to make sure none of your own workers suffers the fate of an Anthony Dalton or Joseph Christopher Jolley. The Compliance Plan explains your OSHA heat stress liability risks and the 9 ways to manage them:

  1. Hazard assessment;
  2. Acclimatization;
  3. Furnishing cool drinking water and other fluids;
  4. Engineering controls like ventilation;
  5. Heat stress safety training;
  6. Monitoring workers;
  7. Safe work procedures and other work controls;
  8. Protective clothing for hot weather; and
  9. PPE.