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Beat the Heat: Protecting workers from heat-related illness

man wipes forward while suffering from heat illness at work

When temperatures rise, workers are more likely to experience heat-related illness. These illnesses can happen at any workplace but often affect construction workers, firefighters, landscapers, farmers, maintenance workers, and utility workers.

Employers have a responsibility to take steps to help protect workers from the heat, and employees who suffer a heat-related illness on the job are eligible to file for workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits cover medical expenses for treating their illness, as well as partial lost wages if they missed time from work.

Know the signs and symptoms

Types of heat-related illness include:

  • Heat stroke – Symptoms may include confusion, slurred speech, unconsciousness, seizures, heavy sweating, hot and dry skin, very high body temperature, and rapid heart rate.
  • Heat exhaustion – Symptoms may include fatigue, irritability, thirst, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness, heavy sweating, elevated body temperature, and fast heart rate.
  • Heat cramps – Symptoms may include muscle spasms or pain, usually in the legs, arms, or trunk.
  • Heat syncope – Symptoms include fainting and dizziness.
  • Heat rash – Symptoms include clusters of red bumps on the skin, often on the neck, upper chest, or skin folds.
  • Rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown) – Symptoms include muscle pain, dark urine, or reduced urine output and weakness.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 there were 43 work-related deaths and 2,410 injuries and illnesses related to heat exposure. That’s why it’s so important for all employers to follow practices designed to prevent heat illness at work.

Steps to protect workers

These practices include:

  • Training. It’s important for employers to train supervisors and workers on recognizing and controlling heat hazards and first aid for heat illness.
  • Following the 20% rule. On a workers’ first day, no more than 20% of the shift should involve working at full intensity in the heat. This duration of full intensity can be increased by no more than 20% each day until workers are used to doing their jobs in the heat.
  • Providing water, rest and shade. In order to stay hydrated in the heat, workers should drink one cup of water every 20 minutes. They should also take frequent rest breaks in areas that are shaded, cool or air-conditioned.
  • Paying close attention to new workers. More than 75% of heat-related fatalities occur in a workers’ first week. So, new workers should be monitored and given more time to adapt to heat conditions.
  • Recognizing that inside workers are also at risk. Workers who spend time outdoors often experienced heat illness, but it can also affect workers in kitchens, laundries, warehouses, electrical utilities, and other hot indoor environments.
  • Engineering controls and modifying work practices. Steps such as providing air conditioning or cooling fans, reducing physical activity in hot weather or rotating job functions can help workers minimize exertion and reduce their risk of illness.

Our lawyers can fight for the workers' comp benefits you deserve

If you suffered a heat-related illness at work in Pennsylvania, it’s important to know your rights. Talk to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney today. Vellner Law P.C. has proudly been serving injured workers in Allentown, Bethlehem, and Lehigh Valley since 1991. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.

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