Working outdoors in the summer can be deadly for workers. As temperatures rise, workers are more at risk for injury, illness, and even death. The most important risk factor in heat-related illnesses is lack of acclimatization. Up to 70 percent of heat-related deaths of outdoor workers happen within the first few days of working. This is because the body needs to build up a tolerance to the elevated temperature gradually over time.
Other risk factors that will increase a worker’s chance of experiencing a heat-related illness include the following:
- High level of exertion
- High air temperature
- Humid air
- Stagnant air
- Heavier clothing, welders require protective sleeves to avoid burns
- Pre-existing health conditions, such as heart disease or a circulatory-related disease
- Lifestyle, like being out of shape or being a smoker
What are the Signs of Extreme Heat Exposure?
The body usually responds to excessive heat in a series of conditions. A common first sign of overexposure is muscle cramping. However, not all people who will experience heat-related conditions will experience cramps.
A more serious condition is heat exhaustion. This will require immediate attention. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, irritability, and thirst. Often, the worker will also experience nausea and vomiting. A quick response is needed. Remove the worker from the heat, encourage them to drink plenty of water, and attempt to cool them off by using cold compression on the head, neck, and face. Swift medical treatment is called for in this case.
The most serious condition is heat stroke. This condition is when core body temperature is elevated above 104 degrees and is a medical emergency. Symptoms may overlap with heat exhaustion but may also include seizures, severe body temperature, and loss of consciousness. Workers will die from heat stroke without immediate medical attention.16.
How is Overexposure Prevented?
Worker safety and health protection precautions that will reduce risk are well known and effective. Employers are encouraged to take the following actions to protect their employees from getting sick from heat:
- Allow heat acclimatization.
- Give frequent breaks in shaded areas and cooler temperatures.
- Provide training on recognizing and responding to signs of overexposure to heat.
- Monitor working conditions to detect heat-related conditions and provide necessary relief at once.
At this time, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have a dedicated rule to prevent illness from excessive heat. The agency can and does issue citations under the general duty clause to address this workplace hazard.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a comprehensive publication regarding the dangers of working in hot environments and how to minimize the risk of illness from working in hot environments. It is beneficial to review the website for more information.
All employers should provide for acclimatization so employees can gradually work up to full shifts in heat over time and provide water, shade, or breaks in cooler areas. The best practice would be for employers to establish a comprehensive program to prevent heat overexposure. Key elements include the following:
- Heat acclimatization plan.
- Medical monitoring plan.
- Drinking water and adequate breaks, one cup of water should be consumed every 15 minutes.
- Shaded or air-conditioned rest areas with regularly scheduled breaks to cool down.
- Protective equipment, such as cooling vests.
- Awareness and training on signs and symptoms of heat overexposure and how to respond to exposure.
Who is at Risk for Heat Exposure?
Sectors most likely to be impacted by extreme heat include construction, agriculture, landscaping, transportation, and oil and gas.
If you are a worker who has suffered a work injury or illness due to extreme heat, contact a lawyer right away. Having a lawyer by your side will ensure that your rights are protected and that you file a workers’ compensation claim quickly and correctly.
Downingtown Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Wusinich, Sweeney & Ryan, LLC Protect Workers Suffering from Heat-Related Illnesses and Injuries
Extreme heat can cause serious illnesses and injuries in the workplace. It is important to know your rights in order to obtain all the compensation you deserve. Our Downingtown workers’ compensation lawyers at Wusinich, Sweeney & Ryan, LLC have successfully represented injured workers and look forward to helping you. Call us at 610-594-1600 or complete an online form for a free consultation. Located in Exton, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Downingtown, West Chester, Exton, Coatesville, Phoenixville, Malvern, Lyndell, Wagontown, Uwchlan Township, Parkesburg, Chester Springs, Lancaster County, Reading, and Morgantown.