When temperatures soar, employers need to take steps to protect their employees from the damaging effects of the heat. Still, throughout the warm-weather months each year, thousands of workers become sick with heat-related illnesses that are completely preventable if the right precautions are taken. Below are some of the best approaches employers should take to protect their workers from the heat and some of the best techniques for handling heat-related injuries when they do happen.
Despite the fact that heat illness is preventable, thousands of workers fall sick in the heat every year. Workers who perform their jobs outside in the summer months are at risk of becoming sick with heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Excessive heat also increases the chances of a worker having an accident, possibly resulting in a Workers’ Compensation claim. Heat can make working conditions more difficult, especially when employees are doing their job in confined spaces. In extreme cases, workers have died as a result of heat exposure. This is a serious problem that employers must recognize and remedy on their worksites.
What Industries are Most Commonly Affected by Heat Illnesses in Their Employees?
Heat-related injuries are often associated with jobs in construction, landscaping, farming, and the like. Other industries that are vulnerable to their workers being affected by heat-induced problems include delivery services, lifeguarding, and oil and gas extraction.
Virtually any worker who performs their job outdoors when the weather is hot runs the risk of developing a heat-related injury if they are not careful.
Despite the focus here on extreme outdoor heat, other sources of heat can produce similar effects. Hot ovens or industrial machines can also produce extreme heat that causes some of the same injuries as working out in the hot sun. Some of the information presented in this discussion can be applied to these indoor work situations as well.
What are Precautions that an Employer can Take to Prevent Heat-Related Injuries?
Some of the most effective measures to stave off illness from the heat are simple, even obvious steps such as the following:
Drinking water. Safety experts recommend drinking eight ounces of water every 20 minutes. Drinking electrolyte drinks are also highly recommended, especially for those sweating in the heat for prolonged periods. Employees working in the heat should drink frequently even if they do not feel thirsty. It is said that feeling thirsty is an indication that the body is already becoming dehydrated.
Frequent breaks. Workers should take breaks often to cool off in a shaded area. Resting and recharging out of direct sunlight allow the body to withstand the effects of the sun and heat.
Dressing for the job. Besides protective gear such as goggles and gloves that protect from the work at hand, workers should wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing to keep themselves cooler. The light colors are better at reflecting sunlight, whereas darker colors retain the heat. Loose clothes allow for cooling air circulation. Hats should also be worn to help shade workers from the sun. Cooling garments are available that use water, ice packs, or air cooling mechanisms.
Remaining on alert for trouble. Workers who perform their jobs in the sun and the supervisors who manage them need to remain vigilant, keeping an eye out for heat-related trouble. Team members should stay in touch with each other about how they are feeling and how the heat may be affecting them. Individual workers should avoid overexertion. Workers should also be honest about the dangers of the heat, encouraging each other to take precautions seriously.
Focusing on training. Probably the most important thing an employer can do to prevent heat-related illnesses from affecting their workers is to train them to understand the dangers of working in the heat and the ways the risks can be mitigated with proactive steps. Further, the training should include how to recognize the signs of heat-related illnesses and implement a plan of action to help any team member who becomes sickened by the heat.
How can a Co-worker or Supervisor Recognize Heat-Related Injury in a Colleague?
It is important for safety managers and supervisors to keep an eye out for any health problems that may be brought on by extreme heat, but it is also helpful for co-workers to look out for each other and for individual workers to stay in tune with their bodies and understanding when they are pushing themselves too far.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), some of the most common signs that could indicate the start of heat-related trouble include the following:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Heavy sweating
- Hot, dry skin
- Elevated body temperature
- Decreased urine output
Importantly, the signs of heat-related problems are often difficult to recognize in another person, but some of the following more serious symptoms are indications of a serious medical emergency:
- Abnormal thinking or behavior
- Slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
What can be Done if a Co-worker Gets a Heat-Related Injury?
When signs of a serious heat-related medical emergency are discovered, the following steps should be taken immediately:
- Call 911.
- Provide water to drink.
- Remove excess clothing.
- Cool the affected person with cold water, ice, or a fan.
- Take them into a cool or shaded area.
- Stay with them until medical personnel arrives to help.
Many of these same steps may help in a less life-threatening case of feeling overheated, such as giving the affected person a cool drink, helping them get to a cooler place, and offering to stay with them until they are feeling better. If things escalate into something more serious, someone can call for the medical attention they need.
Mount Holly Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Kotlar, Hernandez & Cohen, LLC Represent Employees Who Have Suffered Heat-Related Injuries on the Job
If you were injured by extreme heat while at work, you may have a Workers’ Compensation claim against your employer for any costs associated with the injury. Your employer’s insurance should pay for any medical bills you incurred as a result of the injury, including emergency treatments, follow-up appointments, and care for any lingering issues. The Mount Holly Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Kotlar, Hernandez & Cohen, LLC can inform you of your rights to compensation for your work-related injury. Call us at 856-751-7676 or contact us online for a free consultation. Our offices are in Mount Laurel, Cherry Hill, Trenton, and Vineland, New Jersey; and Trevose, Pennsylvania. We serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.