With the summer months finally here, many people are looking forward to spending more time in the sun. For those who work outdoors, however, there is an increased risk of developing certain illnesses while working in the heat all day.
Heat-related illnesses and injuries affect thousands of workers each summer, yet they are entirely preventable. Below, we discuss a few key ways that both employers and workers can reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses.
Know the Risk Factors
Generally speaking, the body tries to regulate itself by keeping a consistent internal temperature. When it heats up, the body will release heat by circulating more blood to the skin’s surface and sweating. If the air is cooler than the skin’s temperature, the blood will radiate heat into the air. However, if the air is too warm, regulation becomes more difficult and heat becomes trapped in the body, leading to heat-related illnesses.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends extra precautions be taken at work when temperatures exceed 85 degrees. Anyone is at risk of developing heat-related illnesses. But certain factors can increase a person’s risk of overheating, such as:
- Body weight
- Certain medical conditions
- Certain medications
- Alcohol and drug use
- Physical fitness
If you believe that you are at an increased risk of suffering from heat-related illnesses, you should tell your employer so that you can be granted more frequent work breaks or other work accommodations.
Keeping Cool and Staying Hydrated
Employers should create plans that protect workers from hot conditions. For instance, during the summer months, employees who work predominantly outdoors should have access to cool or shaded areas, be allowed more frequent rest breaks, and potentially reschedule certain jobs to cooler times of the day.
Staying hydrated is crucial, especially during heavy activity in hot conditions. Workers should drink fluids frequently enough to never become thirsty; this typically means one cup of fluids every 15-30 minutes. It’s important to be well-hydrated even before work begins.
Wear Sunscreen and the Appropriate Clothing
Wearing excessive or tight clothing can raise your body temperature to dangerous levels. If possible, choose lightweight, light-colored, and loose clothing that allows you to keep cool in the hot summer conditions. Add additional protection by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
Sunburn negatively affects your body’s ability to cool down and can cause you to become dehydrated. Before working outside, always put on sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and reapply throughout the day.
Know the Signs of Heat-Related Illnesses
Being able to identify the symptoms related to common heat-related illnesses and conditions is crucial to ensure the safety and health of workers. Especially when the heat index is expected to be high, employers must protect employees by monitoring them and training them to recognize these symptoms:
- Dehydration. Not urinating, very dark urine, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, or extreme thirst.
- Heat Cramps. Painful cramps (especially in the legs) and flushed skin.
- Heat Exhaustion. Muscle cramps, pale and moist skin, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, weakness, fatigue, or headache.
- Heat Rash. Itchiness, prickling feeling on skin, or a rash that appears in red bumps or blisters.
- Heat Stroke (Hyperthermia). Warm and dry skin, high fever (usually over 104°), rapid heartbeat, loss of appetite, fatigue, agitation, lethargy, stupor, seizures, or coma.
What To Do in the Event of an Emergency
If an employee begins to show signs of any heat-related illnesses, it’s important to take action immediately in order to prevent the symptoms from worsening. Move the worker to a cool place, such as an air-conditioned room indoors, and provide them with water and a sports drink to help them replenish their electrolytes.
Have the individual remove excess clothing and place cool, wet cloths on their skin to cool them down. If their condition worsens—for instance, if they pass out or are unable to drink—call 9-1-1 for emergency medical assistance or get them to an emergency room right away. Heat stroke can cause the brain and internal organs to swell, which can be fatal.
If you or a loved one suffers injuries at work during the summer, Justice Law Office is prepared to stand in your corner and advocate for maximum benefits on your behalf. Contact our firm at (502) 822-2230 to speak with our Louisville workers’ comp attorneys today.