OSHA limits work to 25 percent of each hour after heat tops 90 degrees... But CPS has no health guidelines for students and teachers

A quick check with the U.S. Department of Safety and Health (OSHA) shows that workers are supposed to be given reduced work loads as the heat and heat indices increase, but Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials admit that no such guidelines exist for teachers and students in Chicago public schools as summer heat approaches again. With CPS officials and Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel continuing to push for longer school days and longer school years, the refusal of the mayor and those who rule Chicago to ensure that all public schools and all areas of the public schools are air conditioned — and that the systems are maintained — becomes a threat to the health of children and adults working in school buildings. It also becomes a source of potential lawsuits against CPS because the school system has been warned that it has been ignoring the danger of overheated classrooms, gyms, shops and other areas of the city's public schools.

The book Heat Wave showed how most of the excess deaths during the 1995 Chicago heat wave were caused by the policies of the Daley administration. The negligence of the City of Chicago in relation to the heat waves of June 2011 can't be laid at the feet of the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and new Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard — yet. If anything, the brutal neglect of Chicago's poor people was perfected under the administration of Mayor Richard M. Daley, Emanuel's predecessor, and exposed following Daley's negligence leading to the death of more than 700 people in Chicago during the heat wave of 1995 (see book note at the end of this article).

The question arising from the June 6 - 8 2011 heat wave, and its impact on the schools, is whether Mayor Emanuel will fundamentally change the policies and practices that have long forced children and their teachers to suffer when schools' temperatures rise to levels that would force the U.S. government to close down other jobs and environments.

Take the regulations specified by OSHA regarding heat.

According to OSHA regulations, the following are the temperature rules for workers.

" ------------- Work Load* ------------

Work/rest regimen Light Moderate Heavy

Continuous work 30.0°C (86°F) 26.7°C (80°F) 25.0°C (77°F)

75% Work, 25% rest, each hour 30.6°C (87°F) 28.0°C (82°F) 25.9°C (78°F)

50% Work, 50% rest, each hour 31.4°C (89°F) 29.4°C (85°F) 27.9°C (82°F)

25% Work, 75% rest, each hour 32.2°C (90°F) 31.1°C (88°F) 30.0°C (86°F)

*Values are in °C and °F, WBGT. These TLV's are based on the assumption that nearly all acclimatized, fully clothed workers with adequate water and salt intake should be able to function effectively under the given working conditions without exceeding a deep body temperature of 38°C (100.4° F). They are also based on the assumption that the WBGT of the resting place is the same or very close to that of the workplace. Where the WBGT of the work area is different from that of the rest area, a time-weighted average should be used (consult the ACGIH 1992-1993 Threshold Limit Values for Chemical Substances and Physical Agents and Biological Exposure Indices (1992). These TLV's apply to physically fit and acclimatized individuals wearing light summer clothing. If heavier clothing that impedes sweat or has a higher insulation value is required, the permissible heat exposure TLV's in Table III:4-2 must be reduced by the corrections shown in Table III:4-3..." (OSHA)

The suffering that Chicago teachers and children went through in their schools was nothing compared to the tragic suffering that more than 700 Chicagoans, most of them elderly, went through during their death agonies during the heat wave of the summer of 1995. At that time, Chicago recorded what epidemiologists called an "excess" of more than 700 deaths, almost all caused by the heat wave.

It was not until years later that a comprehensive study published by the University of Chicago Press revealed that Chicago's "excess deaths" in July 1995 could be attriibuted to the social and economic policies of the Daley administration.

In his book Heat Wave (320 pages | 35 halftones, 3 maps, 7 figures, 12 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2002) Eric Kleinenberg exposed how Chicago did it. A review of the book was published in Substance years ago (not presently available on the Web). But the summary on line is still a good rendition of what is in the book.

"On Thursday, July 13, 1995, Chicagoans awoke to a blistering day in which the temperature would reach 106 degrees. The heat index, which measures how the temperature actually feels on the body, would hit 126 degrees by the time the day was over. Meteorologists had been warning residents about a two-day heat wave, but these temperatures did not end that soon. When the heat wave broke a week later, city streets had buckled; the records for electrical use were shattered; and power grids had failed, leaving residents without electricity for up to two days. And by July 20, over seven hundred people had perished — more than twice the number that died in the Chicago Fire of 1871, twenty times the number of those struck by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 — in the great Chicago heat wave, one of the deadliest in American history.

"Heat waves in the United States kill more people during a typical year than all other natural disasters combined. Until now, no one could explain either the overwhelming number or the heartbreaking manner of the deaths resulting from the 1995 Chicago heat wave. Meteorologists and medical scientists have been unable to account for the scale of the trauma, and political officials have puzzled over the sources of the city's vulnerability. In Heat Wave, Eric Klinenberg takes us inside the anatomy of the metropolis to conduct what he calls a "social autopsy," examining the social, political, and institutional organs of the city that made this urban disaster so much worse than it ought to have been.

"Starting with the question of why so many people died at home alone, Klinenberg investigates why some neighborhoods experienced greater mortality than others, how the city government responded to the crisis, and how journalists, scientists, and public officials reported on and explained these events. Through a combination of years of fieldwork, extensive interviews, and archival research, Klinenberg uncovers how a number of surprising and unsettling forms of social breakdown—including the literal and social isolation of seniors, the institutional abandonment of poor neighborhoods, and the retrenchment of public assistance programs—contributed to the high fatality rates. The human catastrophe, he argues, cannot simply be blamed on the failures of any particular individuals or organizations. For when hundreds of people die behind locked doors and sealed windows, out of contact with friends, family, community groups, and public agencies, everyone is implicated in their demise.

"As Klinenberg demonstrates in this incisive and gripping account of the contemporary urban condition, the widening cracks in the social foundations of American cities that the 1995 Chicago heat wave made visible have by no means subsided as the temperatures returned to normal. The forces that affected Chicago so disastrously remain in play in America's cities, and we ignore them at our peril."


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