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Worker Heat Injuries

Heat is not a weather condition to mess around with when it comes to outdoor working occupations. In July of 2015, a 37-year-old sanitation employee working on Staten Island was complaining about the effects of working in the extreme heat before he went to his car for a break. Sadly, his co-workers found him unresponsive a short time later and he was pronounced dead when first responders arrived to assist.

 

Heat Exposure Kills Workers

It only takes 15-minutes for extreme heat to cause serious injuries and fatal illnesses to outdoor workers according to Healthline– that’s equal to half of a lunch break. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 39 workers were killed and over 4,000 were injured due to occupational heat exposure in 2016, and these statistics are estimated to be vastly underestimated. Many heat-related injuries and deaths are documented under the wrong occupational risk factor if other underlying health conditions are found in addition to the heat illness, posing a serious problem in identifying just how many workers are suffering from extreme heat.

Even though September is a sign for many that fall temperatures are around the corner, heat advisories are still being issued as brutal temperature spikes continue. In New York City alone, temperatures have risen past 90 degrees Fahrenheit multiple times since the beginning of the summer, with heat patterns not looking to slow down any time soon.

 

Common Types of Heat Illnesses

John Hopkins identifies three main types of heat-related illnesses that could pose a serious health threat to a worker on the job:

  • Heat Cramps: The mildest form of heat illnesses resulting in painful muscle cramps and spasms. These usually occur after intense exercise/manual labor or sweating in high heat and are the first sign that heat is negatively affecting a worker.
  • Heat Exhaustion: Results from a serious loss of water and salt in the body when there is excessive sweating without adequate fluid intake. This condition is more serious than heat cramps and occurs when the body is having trouble cooling down. If not treated, heat exhaustion can easily lead to heat stroke.
  • Heat Stroke:  The most serious of heat illnesses that happens when the body’s heat-regulating system is too overwhelmed to cool. Workers performing jobs in excessive heat, without breaks or fluid, can easily suffer fatal heat stroke if medical attention is not sought immediately.

Heat rash is another common problem in hot working environments. This condition can appear on the neck, chest, groin, or any other area that sweating occurs, causing discomfort and irritability for the worker when on the job.

 

Heat Illnesses Cause Health Consequences

The effects of extreme and excessive heat on the human body can be permanently damaging and life-threatening. According to an article published by AccuWeather, multiple internal organs and systems can be negatively impacted by the onset of heat stroke, including:

  • Nervous System: headaches, unconsciousness, seizures, coma
  • Heart: increased heart rate, low blood pressure, possibly cardiac failure
  • Gut: nausea, vomiting, damage to intestines
  • Renal System: lack of blood flow and oxygen, damage to kidneys, kidney failure
  • Circulatory System: blood clots, lack of oxygen circulating through blood to vital organs
  • Muscular System: cramping, spasms, decreased function

As mentioned before, it only takes 15-minutes for heat stroke to set in under the right conditions. Without proper protocols for treating heat-related illnesses on the job, workers can easily suffer serious health conditions they may never be able to fully recover from.

 

What To Watch For

When we generally think of heat illnesses, symptoms such as severe sweating and fatigue first come to mind. What workers and employers may not realize is that these are not the only symptoms signaling a serious heat-related illness, and missing these critical signs could cost someone their life.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) highlights the main symptoms for each of the three heat-related conditions employers should be watching for when their employees are working in extreme temperatures:

 

Heat Cramps

  • muscle cramping
  • tiredness
  • weakness

Heat Exhaustion

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • weakness
  • thirst
  • elevated body temperature
  • heavy sweating

Heat Stroke

  • confusion
  • seizures
  • loss of consciousness
  • very high body temperatures
  • hot and dry skin
  • profusely sweating

Looking out for signs of heat-illnesses is not a one-man job. All employers and employees should be properly trained in recognizing the signs of severe heat conditions and treating these symptoms to help save the lives of workers in imminent danger.

 

Water. Rest. Shade.

Every year, OSHA documents dozens of occupational deaths and thousands of injuries caused by working in the heat. The majority of these incidents occur within the construction industry and most are completely preventable.

To help employers keep their workers safe, OSHA ’s Water.Rest.Shade. safety campaign is geared towards educating workplaces on the dangers of working in the heat, providing guidance on what to do to prevent serious illnesses from occurring in the first place:

Water: Workers will most likely bring their own water to the job site, but they shouldn’t be forced to bring gallons upon gallons every day to prevent heat-illnesses. Employers should provide workers with plenty of water while on the job, especially in conditions of extreme heat where body fluids evaporate quickly.

Rest: No job deadline is worth the risk of a worker’s life. Workers should be given plenty of rest during hot days and not all off the clock. If a worker has a choice between resting unpaid and getting paid to work through the heat, they could put their health in jeopardy to avoid losing out on wages.

Shade: Providing workers with a cool place to rest in air conditioning is ideal, but if these accommodations are not available, employers should provide adequate shade to shield workers from the sun.

Employers should be monitoring the temperatures and reducing the physical demands of the job if heat advisories are in effect. They should also be keeping in mind that heat stroke can occur at temperatures as low as 80 degrees Fahrenheit, particularly if the job requires workers to wear long sleeves and pants.

 

What To Do When Heat Strikes

If an employer or worker does suspect an employee is suffering from a heat-related illness, don’t wait. In the case of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, OSHA recommends taking the following action steps:

Heat Exhaustion:

  • Take the employee to a clinic or urgent care for medial attention
  • Call 911 if no medical facilities are close by.
  • Stay with worker until help arrives.
  • Remove worker from the hot area and give them liquids to drink.
  • Remove unnecessary clothing.
  • Cool the worker with cool cloths and water.

Heat Stroke:

  • Call 911 immediately before implanting first aid measures
  • Move worker to a shaded and cool area and remove outer clothing
  • Never leave the worker alone. Stay with them until help arrives
  • Apply cool water to the worker and circulate the air if possible.
  • Place cool clothes on the worker

 

Workers Are Fighting Back

Workers across the country are banding together to fight for better federal protections when it comes to heat exposure on the job. The federal government does not currently have any set workplace heat exposure standards, and only three states have formed their own: California, Minnesota, and Washington.

This past July, more than 130 organizations filed a petition urging the Department of Labor to adopt laws requiring employers to provide the protections recommended in the Water.Rest.Shade. campaign, as well as to establish their own emergency medical procedures to address heat illnesses on the job. By fighting for the right to safe working conditions in extreme heat, advocates are hoping to prevent the deadly threat that high temperatures pose on so many workers across multiple industries, including construction, agriculture, and all other outdoor occupations.

 

Protecting NYC Works From Heat Illnesses

Working in the brutal heat is almost always unnecessary, causing significant health conditions and tragic fatalities every year. If you or a loved one has suffered a heat-related injury or illness due to the negligences of an employer, our personal injury experts are here fight back. Pazer, Epstein, Jaffe & Fein have been standing up for the rights of New York City workers for decades. Our dedicated team will provide you with all the options for seeking financial retribution for any injuries sustained, seeking justice against negligent employers who put your health in harm’s way.