Heat Illness Prevention at Work

Jul 26, 2022 | Construction Accidents, Oilfield Accidents, Work Accidents

Heat illness happens when the body cannot cool down quickly enough to maintain a healthy internal body temperature. The human body relies on eliminating excess heat (dissipation) through sweating and increased blood flow to the skin. Suppose heat dissipation does not happen quickly enough. In that case, the internal body temperature keeps rising, and the worker may experience symptoms that include thirst, irritability, a rash, cramping, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.

Although heat illness is preventable, every year, thousands become sick from occupational heat exposure, and some cases are fatal. According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there was an average of 38 work fatalities related to heat illness per year between 2011 and 2019. However, the total number of heat-related fatalities may be underreported. The cause of death is often listed as a heart attack when the actual cause was exposure to a heat-related hazard. 

Some Industries Face Greater Risk of Heat Illness

Occupational risk factors for heat illness include heavy physical activity, warm or hot environmental conditions, lack of acclimatization, and wearing clothing that holds body heat.

Heat illness can occur indoors or outdoors during any season if the conditions are right. However, the risk of becoming dehydrated and developing a heat-related illness is more significant in some industries than in others. 

Outdoors

  • Construction
  • Landscaping
  • Automotive 
  • Mail and Package Delivery
  • Oil & Gas Operations

Indoors

  • Bakeries, kitchens, and laundries (sources with indoor heat-generating appliances)
  • Electrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms)
  • Fire Service
  • Iron and steel mills and foundries
  • Manufacturing with hot local heat sources, like furnaces (e.g., paper products or concrete)
  • Warehousing

Employer’s Responsibility

Under the OSHA Act, employers are responsible for protecting their employees from heat illness.

To prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries on the job, an employer should: 

  • Provide heat illness prevention training for all workers and supervisors about recognizing signs of heat-related illness, procedures for responding to possible illness, and the importance of acclimation.
  • Ensure workers acclimate to heat by gradually increasing their work time in hot environments.
  • Provide the means for appropriate hydration of workers.
  • Ensure and encourage workers to take appropriate rest breaks to cool down and hydrate.

If your employer does not take these safety measures in extreme heat and you are injured on the job, you may be entitled to pursue legal action. Our heat illness lawyers can help you navigate a work injury claim with no upfront costs. 

Types of Heat Illnesses

Like any weather climate, extreme conditions can directly affect an individual’s health by compromising the body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature. Loss of internal temperature control in extreme heat can result in a barrage of illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke–all of which could quickly turn fatal.

Serious heat-related illnesses occur when the body temperature exceeds 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (100.4°F).  Fatal heat-related cases are usually the result of exertional heat stroke, where physical activity in hot environments causes the body temperature to reach 104°F or higher.

  • Heat Stroke. Heatstroke is a condition where the body’s cooling mechanisms are overcome by heat resulting in a high core heat, usually above 104 F in adults and 105 F in children.
  • Heat Exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is a condition whose symptoms may include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse resulting from your body overheating.
  • Rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo) is a medical condition associated with heat stress and prolonged physical exertion. Rhabdo causes the rapid breakdown, rupture, and death of muscle. When muscle tissue dies, electrolytes and large proteins are released into the bloodstream. This can cause irregular heart rhythms, seizures, and kidney damage.
  • Heat Syncope. Heat syncope is a fainting (syncope) episode or dizziness that usually occurs when standing for too long or suddenly standing up after sitting or lying. Factors that may contribute to heat syncope include dehydration and lack of acclimatization.
  • Heat Cramps. Heat cramps are muscle spasms that result from the loss of a large amount of salt and water through exercising in a hot environment.
  • Heat Rash. Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather.

Prevent Heat Illness at Work

Outdoor and indoor heat exposure can be dangerous and even fatal. Therefore, taking the proper OSHA safety measures is essential to protect yourself and others from getting hurt at work. 

Acclimate Yourself

Nearly 3 out of 4 fatalities from heat illness happen during the first week of work. New and returning workers must build a tolerance to heat (acclimatize) and take frequent breaks. 

  • Follow the 20% Rule. On the first day, work no more than 20% of the shift’s duration at full intensity in the heat.
  • Increase the duration of time at full intensity by no more than 20% a day until workers are used to working in the heat

Know The Symptoms of Heat Illness

It’s important to recognize and respond to symptoms of heat-related illnesses for the safety of yourself and others. Signs and symptoms range from dizziness, nausea, high body temperature, loss of consciousness, headaches, and muscle pains. 

Contact a Heat Illness Lawyer 

When employers fail to protect their employees from extreme heat exposure, someone must hold them accountable. If you’ve suffered serious injuries resulting from a heat-related illness due to employer negligence, you may qualify to pursue legal action. Our heat illness lawyers have extensive experience with work injury claims and can help you get compensation for medical expenses, loss of income, and other damages.

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only. The provision of this material does not create an attorney-client relationship between the firm and the reader and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this newsletter are not a substitute for legal counsel. Do not take action in reliance on the contents of this material without seeking the advice of counsel.

The information contained in this blog may or may not reflect the most current legal developments. Accordingly, information in this blog is not promised or guaranteed to be correct or complete, and should not be relied upon as such. Readers should conduct their own appropriate legal research.

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