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Preventing Heat-Related Work Injuries & Illnesses

Spring has arrived, which means that summer is just around the corner and the temperatures are about to start rising—particularly in the southern regions of the country. While summertime weather can be great for lying on the beach, floating a river, or boating on a lake, the heat can be dangerous for outdoor workers.

According to OSHA, 4,120 workers suffered a heat-related illness or injury in 2012. Another 31 workers died from heat-related conditions the same year. Many—if not most—of those injuries and deaths could have been prevented by taking proper precautions and practicing safe work habits.

Who Is at Risk for Heat-Related Illnesses & Injuries?

Workers who spend a great deal of time working outdoor are the most susceptible to heat-related injuries and illnesses. Being exposed to extreme temperatures is dangerous enough on its own, but in addition, many outdoor workers are engaging in physically challenging tasks (construction workers, agricultural workers, industrial workers, etc.). The combination of the outside temperature and rigorous manual labor can lead to body temperatures high enough that they cannot be cooled to a safe level simply through sweating.

Types of Heat-Related Illnesses & Injuries

While heat can cause or contribute to a wide variety of injuries and illnesses, there are three general types that are very common.

  • Heat Cramps – Extreme heat can cause muscle cramps or spasms. Heat cramps can be extremely painful and severe in some case, but they are generally the mildest form of heat injury.
  • Heat Exhaustion – When the body loses too much water and sweat, its internal temperatures begin to rise to levels that can make workers sick. Once body temperatures get above 100 degrees, symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, and headaches. If workers begin feeling any of these symptoms, they should rest and cool their body off immediately to avoid exasperating the illness.
  • Heat Stroke – This is the most dangerous type of heat-related illness. Its symptoms are similar to those of heat exhaustion, but they are much more severe. In the most severe cases, heat strokes can even lead to seizures or comas.

Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses & Injuries

There are many things that can be done to prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries. First and foremost, workers should listen to their body and watch for signs of fatigue that could develop into a more serious illness if ignored. At the first sign of heat-related symptoms, workers should immediately seek cooler shelter to lower their body temperatures.

Additionally, employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment and do everything within reason to prevent heat-related injuries. For example, workers who have not built up a heat tolerance are much more likely to suffer a heat-related injury or illness. Employers should be mindful of this and ease new or temporary workers into extreme heat conditions. They can also make sure that workers are provided with plenty of fluids and shade and are given frequent breaks to avoid overheating their bodies.

If you have suffered a heat-related illness or injury, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the work injury attorneys at Arnold & Itkin today to learn about your legal options.


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