Although heat illness at work 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.
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. If heat dissipation does not happen quickly enough, the internal body temperature keeps rising, and the worker may experience symptoms that include thirst, irritability, nausea, rash, cramping, seizures, and dizziness.
In the sizzling summer months, many Texas workers face an elevated risk of these heat illnesses without proper prevention measures. Between 2010 and 2021, there were 53 heat-related fatalities reported among Texas workers. Federal data shows that this number has nearly doubled in the last 10 years compared to the previous decade.
Types of Heat Illnesses and Their Symptoms
Like any weather climate, extreme conditions can directly affect an individual’s health by compromising the body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature. The two most common types of heat illnesses are heat stroke and heat exhaustion–both 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.
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.
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness (coma)
- Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
- Very high body temperature
- Fatal if treatment delayed
Heat exhaustion is a condition whose symptoms may include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse resulting from your body overheating.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Heavy sweating
- Elevated body temperature
- Decreased urine output
Some Texas Workers Are at Greater Risk of Heat Illness than Others
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.
While heat illness can occur indoors or outdoors during any season if the conditions are right, the risk of becoming dehydrated and developing a heat-related illness is more significant for some workers.
- Mail and Package Delivery
- Oil & Gas Operations
- 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)
Preventing 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.
Under the OSHA Act, employers are responsible for protecting their employees from heat illness. To prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries on the job, employers must develop a heat illness prevention plan:
- 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 from a heat illness on the job, you may be entitled to pursue legal action. Our heat illness work injury lawyers can help you navigate a work injury claim with no upfront costs.
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 Work Injury 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 work injury lawyers have extensive experience with work injury claims and can help you get compensation for medical expenses, loss of income, and other damages.