How Can I Avoid Heat-Related Injuries in the Workplace?

heat-related injuries

Injuries in the workplace can be caused by anything from a slip and fall accident to a faulty piece of equipment. However, injuries that few people ever take into consideration are those that are caused by excessive heat. Categorized as heat illness, health issues caused by excessive heat are not uncommon and usually go unnoticed until one happens.  

Heat illness is not to be ignored. Suffering an illness from excessive heat could result in a number of problems, from heat exhaustion to heat stroke, the latter of which could be fatal. Thousands of American workers every year suffer heat-related injuries at the workplace. Sadly, most of them could have been avoided. 

What Causes a Heat-Related Injury?

Heat illness relates to a set of medical conditions, each one being the result of the body not having the physiological capacity to cool itself under extreme conditions of heat. The result of the body shutting down or diminishing its cooling capacity is a rise in the core body temperature, the result of which can be damaging to the body in a number of ways. This process can easily occur at the workplace when physical labor combines with excessive heat. The result is a heat-related injury. 

What Types of Illnesses Can Result from Excessive Heat?

The most common heat illness is transient heat fatigue. This is a temporary discomfort, sometimes accompanied by mental or psychological strain. This type of illness occurs from sustained heat exposure. It can lead to a lack of ability to perform simple tasks, as well as a lack of coordination and alertness.  

Heat cramps, or spasms, are also common, especially among workers. People tend to drink large amounts of water when exposed to heat. The problem, however, is that too much water dilutes the fluids in the body, decreasing the amount of salt the body desperately needs. The result of low levels of salt is a muscle cramp. 

Heat rash, known to some people as prickly heat, is another common heat illness. This happens in hot, humid weather, which causes too much sweat to remain on the body because of a lack of evaporation. The result is that the sweat ducts become blocked, which in turn causes the skin to develop a rash. A rash can sometimes become infected. 

Heat exhaustion is a more serious type of heat illness. It encompasses a number of disorders that show symptoms related to initial symptoms of heat stroke. Heat exhaustion happens when the body has lost large quantities of fluid caused by sweating, as well as when the body has lost large amounts of salt, as previously explained. 

Heat exhaustion can cause many problems. These include extreme fatigue, nausea, and headaches. It can also result in serious conditions, such as vomiting and loss of consciousness. Heat exhaustion can cause your skin to become moist and clammy, and your complexion can look pale or flushed. Extreme cases may require several days of care.  

Heat stroke is the most serious of all heat illnesses. The temperature regulatory system of the body that keeps it cool causes the body to sweat. If this shuts down and no loss of heat can occur, the body is in imminent danger. A heat stroke causes the body temperature to rise dramatically. The skin becomes dry, often red or spotted.  

A victim of heat stroke can become confused or delirious and can also experience convulsions or unconsciousness in a very short amount of time. A lack of immediate, proper care or hospitalization could result in death.  

What Are the Warning Signs of Heat Illness?

A worker experiencing signs of heat illness should take immediate action to prevent a serious heat-related injury from occurring. Although signs of some specific heat illnesses have already been mentioned, many heat illnesses manifest the same conditions. Therefore, it is important that a worker experiencing any of the following symptoms take immediate action.  

Common symptoms of heat illness are high body temperature, hot or dry skin, and insufficient sweating; an increased heart and respiration rate, low blood pressure, and muscle cramps; headaches, nausea, and vomiting; weakness, fainting, and dizziness; confusion, irritability, and unconsciousness. 

What Are Some Ways to Prevent a Heat-Related Injury in the Workplace?

Acclimatization, the process of becoming accustomed to changes in the environment, is a gradual process. New or returning workers should take small steps to avoid heat-related injuries. Taking breaks at regular intervals in a cooler climate or shaded area is best. 

Certain beverages can easily dehydrate the body. These include alcoholic beverages, tea, coffee, and other caffeine-based beverages. Drink plenty of water to help maintain a normal body temperature, but do not overdo it, as this could cause a low salt level that could also cause a problem. 

Clothes matter. In hot working conditions, wearing tight or excessive clothing prevents your body from cooling. It is best to wear loose, light clothing. For exposed skin, be cognizant of whether you have previously suffered sunburn, which will affect the ability of your body to cool down. When outdoors, wear proper sunscreen and other protective sun gear when possible. 

If you are taking medication, be sure to read the warning label to determine if your medication may cause you to become dehydrated. Stay alert and do not delay taking a break if any symptoms of heat illness arise. Drinking water in this instance is especially important. 

What Can Employers Do to Prevent Heat-Related Injuries?

Employers need to provide, free of charge, access to an adequate supply of clean, cool drinking water. Regular breaks, especially when working in excessive heat, should be provided. Any worker who shows any signs of heat exhaustion or illness should be allowed to stop immediately and be given the proper treatment or emergency service. 

Providing a cool break room or environment is essential. Provide fans or air conditioning for work areas and schedule the more vigorous labor to be performed during cooler times of the day. It is important to encourage physical health, so encouraging employees to stay fit and remain hydrated is essential. 

Employers should provide a training program for the prevention and treatment of heat-related injuries. Each worker and supervisor should receive instruction to recognize signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and how to treat them if needed. 

An employer needs to account for people who may be especially vulnerable to heat illness. This includes workers who are overweight, unfit, on medication, new, or returning to work. Any employee working in extreme heat is vulnerable.  

What Laws Protect Workers from Heat-Related Injuries at the Workplace?

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides laws and programs that help protect workers. OSHA uses its general Duty Clause to hold employers accountable for any heat-hazard violation. 

Despite the work that OSHA has done over the last several years to provide for American workers regarding heat illness prevention, it has recently enhanced its outreach.  

OSHA has just announced on April 12, 2022, that it is launching a national emphasis program that brings attention to heat-related illnesses and their effects at the workplace. The program is for the purpose of improving the conditions of workplaces both indoors and outdoors, specifically concentrating on employers from 70 high-risk industries. 

Heat hazards, policies, and procedures will continue to be the focus for OHSA during the rollout of the program, increasing effectiveness for safety. The program will include regular inspections during days when a specific area is expected to experience excessive heat via a National Weather Service prediction. 

Compliance Safety and Health Officers from OSHA will also communicate with workers unions and organizations on days when the temperature exceeds a heat index of 80 degrees, providing extended help to keep workers safe. 

OSHA regularly provides training and informational sessions, various publications, social media messages, and media appearances that promote safety awareness. With the addition of its new national emphasis program, a greater number of workers in a larger number of industries will stand a better chance to keep from experiencing a heat-related work injury. 

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Employees Who Suffer Heat-Related Injuries in the Workplace 

If you have been injured at work from excessive heat or any poor working condition, speak with Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Our experienced legal team will be your advocate to prove your injury was work related and will fight to secure the compensation for which you are entitled. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

We have offices in Baltimore, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Parkville, NottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.