The Dangers of Working in Extreme Temperatures
June 7, 2019
Summer is underway and already temperatures are reaching above 90 degrees. Extreme heat is especially hazardous for outdoor workers, although people working indoors also face a number of heat-associated risks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), thousands of workers sustain heat-related illnesses and injuries every year – and approximately 30 to 40 more die because of preventable heat exposure.
Why Is Workplace Heat Exposure So Hazardous And What Medical Illnesses And Injuries Can It Cause?
The majority of heat exposure cases happen between June and September, though they also happen year-round. Several types of heat environments can inflict serious or fatal health consequences, particularly when employers fail to implement industry standard safety measures to protect workers. Some of the most hazardous heat environments for workers are exposure to high humidity levels, direct physical contact with hot objects, strenuous physical activities, high air temperatures, and radiant heat sources (e.g. hot exhaust and sunlight).
Heat is a recognized workplace hazard because when someone works in a hot environment, the body must maintain a stable temperature by getting rid of excess heat. Our bodies do this by working extra hard to circulate blood to the skin and through increased levels of sweating. When it is too hot for the body to maintain a safe internal temperature, it stores the heat instead. When a person’s internal temperature gets too high, they start experiencing an elevated heart rate and become susceptible to other severe medical complications.
According to data from the BLS, workers in certain occupations are more likely to fall victim to deadly and dangerous heat exposure; occupations with the highest reported number of heat-related illnesses, injuries, and deaths are:
- Transportation and material moving;
- Protective services;
- Installation, maintenance, and repair;
- Construction and extraction, and:
- Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance
Outside of a person’s occupation, other risk factors can increase someone’s chances for experiencing heat illnesses. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has identified the following factors as putting workers at high risk for heat stress:
- Being overweight;
- Being 65-years-old or above, and:
- Having high blood pressure, taking medication(s) that can be affected by the heat, or having heart disease
Heat exposure and heat stress can cause a variety of different illnesses and injuries. Some examples of heat-related injuries include heat cramps (which usually cause muscle cramping, pain, or spasms in the legs, arms, and/or abdomen), heat exhaustion (usually causes high temperature, dizziness, and nausea), heat stroke (which can be fatal if it is not treated quickly enough), and heat syncope (heat-related fainting or dizziness).
Heat Stress Symptoms: The Red Flags
Identifying the signs and symptoms – and seeking treatment from a healthcare professional when necessary – of heat-related illnesses is one of the most effective ways to prevent serious and deadly injuries. Some general signs of heat illnesses to watch out for (especially if you work outdoors or in hot, indoor environments) – are:
- Confusion, altered mental status, and/or slurred speech*;
- Profuse sweating and hot or dry skin*;
- Headache, nausea, and dizziness;
- Extreme thirst;
- Decreased urine output, and:
- Short-term fainting or light-headedness that worsens during prolonged standing or suddenly rising from a seated position;
*If a worker is showing signs of a heat stroke, such as slurred speech, dry skin or even seizures, it is critical to call 911 for emergency medical care right away. If you want to learn more about heat-related illnesses and their symptoms, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/heatrelillness.html. If you have questions about heat-related illnesses or injuries, please contact a representative at our firm directly who can help.
Allentown Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Represent Injured Workers
If you were injured because of health and safety failures on the job, our Allentown Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger can help. With offices are located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.