How Should Workers Handle Summer Work Injuries? July 28, 2020
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more occupational injuries occur during the summer than in any other season. MedExpress, which operates more than 300 urgent care centers across 27 states, also reports treating a higher-than-average number of patients with work-related injuries during the summer months. However, many summer work injuries are preventable. Exercising caution and knowing how to work safely in hot weather can help workers stay healthy.
What Types of Work Injuries Occur in the Summer?
The most common types of summer work injuries include the following:
Sprains and strains: These account for about 40 percent of all summer work injuries. Some sprains are due to slip and fall accidents, whereas others are categorized as overuse injuries because they occur when individuals engage in strenuous activities without giving their bodies time to rest.
Cuts, abrasions, lacerations, and fractures: These injuries are often the result of a fall. One reason that slip and fall accidents tend to increase in the summer is because construction workers and road crews are more likely to be engaged in large projects outside.
High temperatures: Hot weather may also contribute to falls and other accidents. Workers have more difficulty concentrating when they are overheated. The risk of heat-related illness is a very real danger to workers in the summer. In most years, heat-related illnesses killed more people than any other type of weather condition, including floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 600 people die of heat-related illnesses annually.
What are the Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness?
Heat-related illness follows a progression that, if left untreated, can be fatal. The three stages of heat-related illness are as follows:
Heat cramps: These are typically the first sign that a person’s body is unable to cool down. Workers who experience a sudden onset of muscle cramps should immediately drink plenty of water, move to a cooler spot, and loosen tight clothing. Workers suffering heat cramps may also be dehydrated. This can happen quickly when the body loses too much water and salt by sweating. Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, low blood pressure, tiredness, and rapid breathing.
Heat exhaustion: Symptoms of this stage include dizziness, confusion, fatigue, headache, and nausea. Persons suffering heat exhaustion should be monitored closely and immediately cool down with water or be taken to an air-conditioned location.
Heat stroke: This can develop when a person’s body temperature approaches 103 degrees. Symptoms include rapid pulse, dry skin, and loss of consciousness. This condition can quickly become fatal as high body temperatures can damage the brain and other organs, leading to organ failure.
How can Workers Avoid Heat Illness?
When working outside in high temperatures, workers can avoid developing heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses by following these steps:
- Remember to stay hydrated. Workers should drink water every 15 minutes.
- Take regular breaks. It is best to rest in the shade or go to an air-conditioned room periodically, if possible.
- Wear light-colored clothing and a hat. Wearing dark clothing is not a good idea in hot weather; a well-designed hat can protect the head and face from harmful ultra-violet (UV) rays.
- Pay attention to body signals. Workers should stop, rest, and drink water at the first sign of cramps or dizziness.
- Stay mindful of coworkers. Employees should look for changes in co-workers’ mental and physical state because they may not be aware of their own symptoms.
Workers performing tasks in high temperatures and direct sunlight will suffer the effects of physical labor more intensely than usual. Reducing the physical workload when possible can also help workers stay healthy and safe.
What Workers Risk Injury on the Job During Summer?
Although summer work injuries can happen at any job, employees in the following occupations are more at risk because of the nature of their work:
Roofers: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roofers have more than 10 times the number of fatalities than the average worker. Roofers almost always work in direct sunlight where surfaces can become extremely hot. Roofers may be inclined to forgo wearing a hard hat or other personal protective equipment (PPE) when temperatures climb. Similarly, construction workers and road crews may also forgo PPE when they are out in the sun. In addition, heat can cause workers to sweat and lose their grip on tools and machinery, increasing the chance of cuts and lacerations.
Agricultural workers and landscapers: These workers have no choice but to work in the sun, and the heat always presents a danger. Wearing light clothing and a hat can help. Studies also show that new workers who have not become acclimated to sweating or stabilizing their breathing in the heat are at an increased risk of heat exhaustion. Companies should allow new employees to gradually work outside for short periods of time, which can help them condition their bodies for outdoor work.
Delivery truck drivers: Some local delivery trucks are not air-conditioned. One study found that more than 100 drivers for a national delivery service were admitted to the hospital for heat-related emergencies over a three-year period. Temperatures inside their trucks were often higher than 130 degrees. With more delivery trucks on the road during the COVID-19 pandemic, heat-related illnesses for drivers of non-air-conditioned trucks are likely to increase. Some drivers attempt to beat the heat by purchasing bags of ice to help them cool down during their shifts.
How can Employers Help Prevent Summer Work Injuries?
Employers can take steps to prevent summer work injuries, including the following:
- Conduct a hazard analysis of the workplace
- Adjust business practices to reduce hazards
- Offer training on the best way to avoid sprains and strains
- Remind workers of safety practices
- Provide adequate shaded areas and hydration breaks
Hazard analysis involves identifying risk factors in the workplace and removing as many of those factors as possible. Specific areas of focus may include the following:
- Sprain and strain risks. Look for slippery or uneven walking surfaces, tools that force workers to use awkward motions, or tasks that involve heavy lifting.
- Cut and laceration risks. Risk factors include cutting tools that are dull, a lack of guarding around machines with blades and lathes, and the failure to provide proper gloves to employees who use sharp tools.
- Heat-related illness risks: It is important to make a note of any employees who may be performing tasks alone in the heat. Employers can establish check-in procedures that allow remote workers to use an app to periodically confirm their safety.
The U.S. Department of Labor recommends water breaks every 15 minutes for workers out in the summer heat. Starting work early and finishing by 3:00 p.m. can also make a big difference. Educating employees about injury prevention is imperative. In-person training is considered one of the best ways to get the message across; however, handing out educational materials can also make a difference. When employers treat safety as a priority, the risk of summer work injuries can be reduced.
What Should Workers Do If They are Hurt on the Job?
Despite precautions, workers may become injured or develop heat-related illnesses during the summer. If workers get hurt on the job or experience a medical emergency, they should immediately seek treatment and notify their supervisor. When injuries are serious, employees should not delay in filing a Workers’ Compensation claim. Employers are not required to file a claim for workers or take any action on their behalf until the worker reports their injury according to the guidelines posted in the workplace.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at Galfand Berger LLP Help Workers Suffering from Heat-Related Illnesses
Filing for Workers’ Compensation can be complicated. The Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation attorneys at Galfand Berger LLP are always available to help injured workers file a claim. If you were injured at work or experienced a medical emergency on the job, do not hesitate to reach out to us. For a free consultation, fill out an online form or call us at 800-222-8792. From our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg.