As the weather gets warmer, employees face even more risk for on-site injuries due to the heat. The biggest threat is hyperthermia, which occurs when the body is unable to regulate its core temperature.
Between 1999 and 2010, 8,081 heat-related deaths were reported in the United States. In 2015, the latest data available from the United States Department of Labor, overexposure to heat led to 37 work-related deaths and 2,830 injuries and illnesses. Heat can also be a contributing factor for other work-related injuries, including falls from dizziness and accidents due to fatigue. Employees need to be aware of what heat-related injuries they could face, what puts them at risk, and how they can prevent these injuries from occurring.
Heat Injuries and Illnesses
Hyperthermia is broken down into three illnesses: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Heat cramps are involuntary muscle spasms experienced by individuals in hot environments. A loss of water and electrolytes contributes to the intensity and duration of heat cramps. They are typically experienced in the calf, arm, and abdominal muscles.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself in hot weather due to overexertion. It can also be caused by dehydration, alcohol use, or overdressing. Exhaustion symptoms include fatigue, nausea, headache, heavy sweating, dizziness, a weak pulse, and moist, cool skin.
A heat stroke, the most severe form of hyperthermia, can occur quickly without any symptoms of heat exhaustion. During a heat stroke, the body is unable to control its temperature and cannot cool down. As the body temperature increases, the person experiencing the stroke may encounter cognitive impairment, hot or dry skin, seizures, or unconsciousness.
Risk Factors and Prevention
There are various risk factors associated with heat-related work injuries and illnesses. According to Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation and Workplace Safety 2017 Annual Report, there were 174,216 heat-related injuries in 2017 alone. A significant portion of those injuries occurred in industries that are exposed to high-heat environments during the summer months, including manufacturing, construction, trade, transportation and utilities, and agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting.
If you work in any of these industries, you're at a higher risk for a work-related injury or illness. Employees who work outside, obese employees, and employees with heart disease or high blood pressure have an increased risk of heat-related illnesses.
Whether you're at home or on the job, you can take preventative measures to ensure your safety.
1. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing that allows your body to cool and doesn't trap heat
2. Apply sunscreen when you are outdoors, and reapply every few hours
3. Take frequent breaks in a shaded area during the hottest parts of the day
4. Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day
5. Take caution if you're at an increased risk for heat-related injuries and illnesses, such as risks associated with prescription medications and existing health conditions
* These are only recommendations and general guidelines. If you have any other concerns, check with your doctor
When necessary, employers should also implement practices to decrease the risk of heat-related work injuries for their employees. Preventative measures could include providing regular breaks or longer break periods, tools that decrease physical demands of certain jobs, or cold water and electrolyte beverages. Employers could also provide training for employees on heat-related injuries and illnesses.
Let Dugan & Associates Assist You
If you or someone you love has suffered from a heat-related work injury or illness, the team at Dugan & Associates is here for you. Our team of expert workers' compensation lawyers is ready to look at your case and make sure you receive the maximum monetary compensation available to you. Contact us for your free consultation today.