Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, is Monday, May 31. As summer approaches and temperatures rise, employees working in the heat are at an increased threat of injury.
Workers exposed to extreme heat are threatened by heat stress, a condition including multiple heat-related injuries and illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rashes.
Not only can hot weather cause heat stress, but it can cause all sorts of other injuries too. Heat can cause sweaty palms, fogged-up glasses, and dizziness – all of which can lead to dangerous accidents on the job.
Because high temperatures can impose terrible and potentially fatal consequences, it is imperative for employers and employees to pay special attention to safety methods during the summer. However, if you’ve already experienced a heat-related injury or illness, you may have a valid workers’ compensation claim for heat stress.
Heat Stress, Heat Stroke, Heat Exhaustion, Heat Cramps, Heat Rash – What’s the Difference?
“Heat stress” encompasses various conditions such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rash.
Employers and employees must understand the different heat-related injuries and illnesses to best prevent and treat them.
The most severe heat-related injury is heat stroke. Heat stroke occurs when an individual’s body loses the ability to control its temperature. When experiencing heat stroke, the body’s temperature will rise rapidly, the sweating mechanism will fail, and the body will be unable to cool down. If left untreated, heat stroke can be fatal or cause permanent disability. Symptoms of heat stroke include confusion, coma, hot and dry skin, profuse sweating, seizures, and high body temperature.
When the body endures an excessive loss of water and salt, an individual may experience symptoms of heat exhaustion. This is usually due to excessive sweating. Some groups are at an increased risk of heat exhaustion: the elderly, those with high blood pressure, and those working in a hot environment. Symptoms such as headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, heavy sweating, elevated body temperature, and decreased urine output typically accompany heat exhaustion.
Workers participating in strenuous activity during hot weather are in danger of heat cramps. These cramps usually develop due to excessive sweating. When the body produces abnormal amounts of sweat, the body can become depleted of salt and moisture. When this happens, salt levels in muscles may lower, causing painful cramps. Muscle cramps, pain, or spasms in the abdomen, arms, or legs characterize heat cramps.
Excessive sweat can also cause heat rash. Heat rash is an irritation of the skin marked by red clusters of pimples or small blisters in areas such as the neck or upper chest.
If you’ve suffered from any of the above symptoms, you may be eligible to receive workers’ compensation for heat stress.
Who’s at Risk?
Certain industries are already at significant risk of sustaining the above conditions. For example, firefighters, bakery workers, farmers, construction workers, miners, boiler room workers, factory workers, and landscapers are particularly susceptible.
Along with workers from these specific industries, other groups may be at a higher risk of heat-related illness and injury. According to the CDC, extreme heat impacts individuals 65 years of age or older and those who are overweight more significantly than others. Additionally, certain preexisting medical conditions such as heart disease or high blood pressure and some medications may increase one’s likelihood of enduring heat stress.
Further, during the warmer months, employees not usually in danger of experiencing a heat-related injury can become more exposed to the potential hazards of hot working climates.
Therefore, it is absolutely vital to take proactive preventive steps while working in hazardous temperatures and seek medical treatment or first-aid when you recognize potential symptoms of heat stress.
What Can I Do to Prevent Illness and Injury During Hot Weather?
Fortunately, whether you work in a high-risk industry, have a condition that makes you more vulnerable, or are simply preparing to work in hotter than normal weather conditions, taking action to prevent heat stress is simple.
- Provide proper training to employees – It is crucial for employers to train employees on heat hazards adequately. Employees should be taught the different heat-related illnesses and how to recognize them in themselves and fellow workers. Further, employers should explain how to contact emergency medical services, perform first-aid, and inform employees of any job-specific threats.
- Monitor yourself and others – Preventing heat stress is best accomplished in teams or via a buddy system. While working in the heat, look out for signs of heat-related illness or injury in yourself and your coworkers.
- “Water. Rest. Shade.” – The most effective method of preventing heat stress and related conditions is to hydrate, rest, and take time as needed in a cool location. This is best explained by OSHA’s “Water. Rest. Shade.” heat illness prevention campaign. Workers should not only drink when they are thirsty. OSHA recommends one cup (8 ounces) of water be consumed every 20 minutes while working in the heat. Employers should provide cool water and, for longer jobs (those that last over 2 hours), drinks with electrolytes such as sports drinks. Employers should also enforce frequent breaks, preferably in a cool or shaded area such as an air-conditioned vehicle or under a tent.
- Wear weather-appropriate clothing – To prevent becoming over-heated easily, wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing made out of materials such as cotton. Also, wide-brim hats will protect the face, neck, ears, and surrounding areas. Such protection from the sun can contribute to preventing heat stress and its accompanying symptoms.
Have You Experienced Heat Stress as a Result of Working Conditions? We Can Help.
If you were injured on the job due to hot weather, you might be entitled to receive workers’ compensation for heat stress.
Keches Law Group’s skilled and experienced workers’ compensation lawyers can assist you. Contact us today.