When it comes to creating a safe workplace environment, businesses have to consider many risks to their employees. Around this time of year, one of the top risks for workplace injuries is exposure to excessive heat.
In Ohio, summertime heatwaves can send temperatures up over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, creating the potential for heat-related illnesses among people who work outside or in hot facilities. Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands become ill due to working in extreme heat, indoors and outdoors, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
If you wind up seriously injured or ill due to a heat-related illness, you may be eligible to file for Workers' Compensation.
Heat-related illnesses come in various forms such as heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, rhabdomyolysis, heat cramps, and heat rash.
Among the industries most likely to be affected by extreme heat are:
- Waste collection
- HVAC system manufacturing and installation
- Asphalt paving
- Synthetic turf installation
- Commercial laundry
- Mail delivery
How workers can beat the heat
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides tips on how to identify a heat-related illness and what to do to treat it until help arrives. Knowing how to spot the signs of heat illness could reduce the risk of serious injury.
In the right heat and humidity conditions, a body's temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit in 10 to 15 minutes, NIOSH says. The condition is so serious that it can cause brain damage, another permanent disability, or even death if left untreated.
Feeling ill while working in the heat is a warning that something is wrong. If you have this sensation, it is important that you address it immediately.
Heat illness types
Heat illness is an umbrella term for serious conditions that occur when the body overheats and can no longer regulate its temperature. Basically, your inner temperature shoots up, your sweating mechanism fails, and your body is unable to cool down.
Here are the different types of heat-related illnesses.
According to NIOSH, which is a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heatstroke symptoms include:
- Confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness (coma)
- Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
- Very high body temperature
If you witness these signs, you may be able to help the situation by:
- Calling 911 for emergency medical care
- Staying with the worker until help arrives
- Moving the worker to a shaded or cool area and removing any outer clothing
- Cooling the worker with cold water or an ice bath, if possible; wet the skin, place cold wet cloths on the skin, or soak clothing with cool water
- Circulating the air around the worker to speed cooling
- Placing cold wet cloths or ice on the head, neck, armpits, and groin
A less mild form of heat illness is heat exhaustion. This reaction to extreme heat usually takes the form of excessive sweating, which causes a loss of water and salt. This exhausts people, especially those who are elderly or have high blood pressure.
Heat exhaustion symptoms include:
- Heavy sweating
- Elevated body temperature
- Decreased urine output
If you notice these symptoms, NIOSH advises you to:
- Take the worker to a clinic or emergency room for medical care or call 911
- Stay with the worker until help arrives
- Remove the worker from the hot area and give liquids to drink
- Remove unnecessary clothing like shoes and socks
- Cool the worker with cold compresses or have the worker wash their head, face, and neck with cold water
- Encourage frequent sips of cool water
This condition is associated with extreme heat exposure, heat stress, and long stints of hard labor. Combine all three and a worker is at risk for the rapid breakdown, rupture, and possible death of muscle called rhabdomyolysis. When muscles die it can release a protein that causes irregular heartbeat and kidney damage.
Symptoms of heat-related muscle breakdown include:
- Muscle cramps or pain
- Abnormally dark (tea or cola color) urine
- Exercise intolerance
The person may also be asymptomatic.
If symptoms are observed, NIOSH suggests you:
- Stop the physically demanding work that is causing the problem
- Drink water or other fluids
- Seek immediate care at a nearby medical facility
This is when people feel dizzy or faint due to heat. This usually happens due to long periods of standing or sudden rises from a sitting or lying down position. Dehydration can contribute to syncope. If you see these signs:
- Sit or lie down in a cool place
- Slowly drink water, clear juice, or sports drinks
This type of pain is most often felt by people who sweat a lot during hard, physical activities. Sweating removes salt and moisture from the body and the lack of salt creates muscle cramps. Heat cramps can proceed or be a symptom of heat exhaustion.
If you notice muscle cramps, pain, or spasms in the abdomen, arms, or legs you should:
- Drink water and have a snack or sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes
- Avoid salt tablets
- Get medical help if the worker has heart problems, is on a low-sodium diet, or if cramps do not stop within an hour
This is a skin irritation due to heavy sweating in hot, humid weather. The rash looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters and usually appears on the neck, upper chest, groin, under the breasts, and in the elbow creases.
If you notice this you should:
- Move to a cooler, less humid work environment
- Keep the rash area dry
- Apply powder to increase comfort
- Avoid using ointments and creams
A workers' comp attorney can help you get the benefits you deserve
Getting injured or seriously ill on the job can be devastating. Not only are you hurt and in pain, you're out of work, most likely not collecting a paycheck, and watching the bills stack up. It's times like these when people should take advantage of Ohio's Workers' Compensation program. Workers' comp is designed to provide injured workers with partial wages and enough money to cover their medical expenses—but it doesn't always work out that way.
An experienced workers' compensation lawyer can make sure you get the benefits you're entitled to. Our law firm knows the ins and outs of the workers' compensation system in Ohio. We have more than 150 years of combined legal experience fighting for the rights of injured workers. We have the resources to investigate your accident, get you the medical treatment you deserve, and fight for the best possible outcome in your case. Our attorneys can also advocate for you in front of Ohio's Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
To find out more about how we can help you, contact us today to schedule a free case consultation. We have offices conveniently located in Dayton, Cincinnati, Springfield, and Troy.