What Should I Do if I Suffer a Heat-Related Injury at Work?
August 1, 2023
Pennsylvania and states across the country have seen extreme temperatures this summer. According to the National Weather Service, more than 46 million Americans have been under heat alerts over the last 30 days. This raises concerns about the health and safety of workers in various industries. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety and health hazards. This includes protection from heat-related injuries and illnesses. If you suffered heat-related harm on the job, you should speak with a Workers’ Compensation lawyer.
The first few moments after suffering any injury can be overwhelming. It is essential for your health and safety and future claims proceedings to know what to do if you sustain an injury at work.
The following are steps you should take if you sustain a heat-related work injury:
- Seek immediate medical attention: If you cannot call 911, let a co-worker or anyone nearby know you need medical assistance for an injury.
- Notify your employer: It is crucial to report the injury or illness to your supervisor as soon as possible to start the Workers’ Compensation claims process.
- Contact a Workers’ Compensation lawyer: An experienced lawyer can protect your rights and best interests if your claim is denied. They can help you obtain the benefits you need.
Does OSHA Regulate Workplace Heat Hazards?
On April 12, 2022, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it implemented a National Emphasis Program (NEP) designed to scrutinize indoor and outdoor workplaces for hazards related to extreme heat. Employers were notified that they must address heat hazards at work before intense summer temperatures kicked in across the country. In addition, OSHA issued inspection guidance to its officers to set a permanent safety standard for heat-related work hazards.
Are Pennsylvania Employers Required to Address Heat Hazards?
OSHA-approved workplace safety and health programs vary from state to state. Currently, 29 states have plans that OSHA monitors. State plans must be at least as effective as OSHA’s regulations in protecting workers and preventing work-related injuries. Pennsylvania is under federal OSHA jurisdiction, which covers most private-sector workers within the state. However, federal OSHA does not cover Pennsylvania state and local government workers.
Presently, no heat stress standards are in place for states that federal OSHA covers. Traditionally, federal OSHA has enforced heat-related hazards standards through its General Duty Clause. The standards require employers to provide a work environment free from recognized hazards that have caused or are likely to cause severe or fatal physical harm to workers.
What Are Common Heat-Related Injuries?
There is a wide range of workplace injuries and illnesses that can stem from extreme heat at work, such as the following:
- Heatstroke: Heatstroke is the most severe heat-related illness. It occurs when a worker’s body cannot control its temperature, which can spike without warning to 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Symptoms include hot skin, confusion, seizures, and loss of consciousness. Rapid and appropriate treatment is crucial to prevent brain damage or death.
- Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion occurs when a worker’s body responds to an extreme loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Symptoms include nausea, headaches, and elevated body temperatures. Heat exhaustion can quickly progress to heat stroke if the worker is not attended to immediately.
- Heat cramps: Workers who sweat a lot during strenuous activity are the most prone to heat cramps. Sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels, which leads to painful cramps. Heat cramps can also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.
- Heat rash: Hot and humid weather can cause workers to sweat excessively on the job. This can lead to a skin irritation known as heat rash, which often looks like red clusters of pimples or small blisters. Heat rash usually appears on a worker’s neck, upper chest, and body creases.
- Rhabdomyolysis: This dangerous condition causes muscles to break down from overexertion in extreme heat. Signs and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis include weak muscles, muscle swelling, muscle stiffness, sore muscles, and dark urine. Rhabdomyolysis symptoms can range from mild to severe and can even be life-threatening.
- Acute kidney injury: Severe dehydration and overheating can cause a worker’s muscles to break down and deteriorate. When this happens, muscle components, such as potassium, phosphate, and myoglobin, leak into the worker’s blood and circulatory system. These muscle components can cause life-threatening damage to the kidneys.
How Should Employers Protect Workers From Heat Illnesses and Injuries?
In recent years, workers across the country have reported increasing heat-related illnesses. Pennsylvania employers should have a heat illness prevention plan to protect their workers, especially in summer.
OSHA provides that employers should implement the following practices to keep their workers safe:
- Plan ahead to protect workers from heat hazards.
- Understand heat hazards and how to recognize heat stress.
- Know the symptoms of heat illness and what actions to take.
- Have a schedule for workers to take water breaks and rest in the shade.
- Provide training to workers on heat exposure risks, prevention actions, and first aid.
- Share written materials about heat exposure and safety.
Employers and employees can also use resources like the CDC Heat & Health Tracker on heat.gov to plan ahead for extreme heat at work. The online tracking system provides local heat and health information so communities can better prepare for and respond to dangerous heat events.
Who Is Most at Risk for Heat-Related Injuries at Work?
Millions of American workers are exposed to heat stress in their workplaces. Thousands of workers suffer serious or fatal injuries from occupational heat hazards yearly. Hazardous heat exposure can occur indoors or outdoors at any time of year if the conditions are right.
The following are industries where workers are more at risk for heat-related injuries:
- Delivery services
- Oil and gas well operations
- Bakeries and kitchens
- Laundromats and dry cleaners
- Electrical utilities
How Can a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Help Me?
Workers’ Compensation law can be complex, particularly when serious injuries require ongoing care. There are deadlines and details to take care of, and initial claims are often denied. A skilled Workers’ Compensation lawyer can help you navigate the process to pursue the best possible outcome for your case.
Galfand Berger LLP has an extensive history of successfully representing Pennsylvania workers in various Workers’ Compensation cases. View our recoveries here.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Help Workers Affected by Heat-Related Injuries and Illnesses
Our experienced Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP handle various workplace injury cases. If you have suffered a heat-related injury or illness at work, we can review your case and discuss your best legal options. Call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Reading, Bethlehem, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we also serve clients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.