Have you ever been driving in your air-conditioned car on a hot summer day and seen a construction worker toiling away in 90-degree heat? You probably wondered how someone could work in those grueling conditions for so long and not get deathly ill.
Unfortunately, people do suffer from heat-related illness while on the job, and the consequences can be severe. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said that 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness in 2014 and 18 lost their lives due to heat stroke while on the job. As OSHA points out, these deaths are completely preventable.
It is up to employers to make sure they aren’t subjecting workers to brutal heat without first providing for their safety. If a worker becomes sick because of prolonged heat exposure, it is often the fault of their employer or supervisor. Those workers could have grounds to file a workplace injury lawsuit or to pursue workers’ compensation benefits.
For those of you who do work outside during the summer months, you know that there are several ways to protect yourself from the heat. Let’s look at some of the most common hazards and how workers and employers can prevent them from happening.
Types of Heat-Related Illness
Prolonged exposure to excessive heat and humidity can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, headaches, cramps, elevated heart rate and nausea. Heat stroke symptoms include confusion, high temperatures, hot skin, fainting and convulsions. Symptoms can manifest suddenly or have a slower onset, so it is best to be vigilant when monitoring workers outdoors.
Who is Impacted by Heat Illness?
Anyone can be affected by heat-related illnesses if the conditions are severe enough. However, the workers most likely to suffer from heat illness are those that aren’t used to working in these conditions. Pay special attention to new workers and temporary workers to make sure they aren’t overheating. Workers who have taken just a few days off work need to pace themselves before resuming their full workload.
Any worker who is exposed to heat for a prolonged period can suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Workers who do heavy manual labor are especially susceptible to these adverse conditions. That includes construction workers, groundskeepers, oil and gas workers and farmers.
Preventing Workplace Heat Illness
Workers should be given plenty of water and drink some every 15 minutes when working in the summer heat. They should also be given the opportunity to rest in the shade regularly as needed. It is best to work in light-colored clothing and to wear sunscreen. Wearing sunglasses and hats can also help prevent sunburns and heat-related injuries.
When a worker is subjected to extreme work conditions, their employer has an obligation to give them every opportunity to minimize risks associated with the job. Supervisors should listen to the concerns of workers and take preemptive measures to reduce injuries and illnesses. Workers who suffer an on-the-job injury have the right to compensation for lost wages and medical expenses that result from their injury.
If you’ve suffered from heat illness on the job, consider contacting a workplace injury attorney to learn more about your legal options. While many workers are covered by workers’ compensation insurance programs, those that work in some of the industries commonly associated with heat-related injuries are classified as independent contractors and, thus, are not covered by workers’ compensation.
However, an injured worker almost always has some form of legal action they can take to get the compensation they deserve. Workers have the right to pursue a personal injury claim against their employer if they aren’t covered by workers’ comp. Additionally, they might be able to file a third-party claim if their injury was the fault of someone other than their employer.
David Mann is a personal injury attorney and owner of the Mann Law Firm. He represents clients throughout Georgia.