Spring has arrived, which means that summer is just around the corner and the temperatures are about to start rising—especially in the southern region 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 a single year. Another 31 workers died from heat-related conditions during the same period. 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 outdoors are the most susceptible to heat-related injuries and illnesses. Being exposed to extreme temperatures is dangerous enough on its own, but many outdoor workers are engaged 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
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stresses that working in hot environments can cause something known as heat stress—a general term for a variety of ailments triggered by prolonged exposure to high temperatures.
The agency notes that those who are at risk of heat stress include:
- Those who are 65 years of age or more
- Overweight workers
- Workers with heart disease or high blood pressures
- Workers who take certain medications
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 cases, 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 exacerbating 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 serious instances, heat stroke can lead to seizures or comas.
Other Ways the Heat Makes Work Dangerous
Illness isn’t the only risk of working while it’s hot. High temperatures place all workers in danger by making routine aspects of their job riskier. The heat can cause glasses to fog up, make palms sweaty, and even make a person feel dizzy briefly—things that could trigger a serious work accident at any moment.
Working In the Heat: Safety Tips You Should Follow
There are many things that can be done to prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries. First and foremost, workers should listen to their bodies 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.
Can Employers Make You Work in the Heat?
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 temperatures are too high for workers to safely do their job, employers are obligated by the law to stop work and protect their safety. If one fails to do this and an injury occurs as a result, affected workers or their families should contact a work injury lawyer as soon as possible.
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.