Working in the heat is something that a lot of Texans are pretty much forced to do for much of the year. People who work to construct buildings and roads, those who do repair and maintenance, those who do landscaping or HVAC repair; there are a lot of workers out there who are forced to endure the hot Texas sun all summer.
In the United States, nearly 1,000 people die from heat illness each year, with many of them being workers who toil outside in the summer. In the state of Texas, the worst months are July and August, with each month seeing 60 to 70 outside workers dying each month. That’s two per day. Perhaps the saddest part of this is, all heat illness is preventable.
For the past several years, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has conducted a nationwide outreach to all employers to realize that all heat illness is preventable, if they take reasonable precautions, and by remembering three important words; water, rest and shade. Workers should be encouraged to drink water often, to take regular, frequent breaks, and limit their time in the heat. In extremely hot conditions, workers should be allowed to become more acclimated to the heat, by gradually increasing workloads and allowing more breaks during their first week or two of work, or longer, if necessary. Employers are encouraged to include such prevention steps in worksite training and plans.
Under normal conditions, the body cools itself by sweating. But when the weather is extremely hot, especially when accompanied by high humidity, sweat may not provide sufficient cooling, causing body temperatures to increase to dangerous levels, which can lead to heat illnesses, ranging from mild heat rashes and cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Everyone, including workers, supervisors and managers, should understand the signs of heat illness:
- Heat syncope usually takes the form of dizziness or feeling faint, and often strikes workers who have been standing for a long time. In some cases, however, it can happen to workers who quickly rise from a lying or sitting position. In most cases, this is caused by dehydration or a lack of acclimatization. When this happens, workers should lie down in a cool spot and rehydrate.
- Heat cramps can sometimes hit workers who have been working hard and sweating a lot. Because sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels, these low levels can cause a worker’s muscles to cramp. Heat cramps can also be the beginning signs of heat exhaustion. Workers suffering from heat cramps should immediately stop working, sit in a cool place and rehydrate. They should also be given a few hours before returning to strenuous work, so as to prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke. If heat cramps continue for more than an hour, seek medical help.
- Heat exhaustion is the body reacting to an excessive loss of water and salt. Workers who are most prone to heat exhaustion are older workers, or workers who suffer from high blood pressure. Among the symptoms of heat exhaustion are; heavy sweating, paleness; dizziness or confusion; extreme weakness; fatigue; fast, shallow breathing; slightly higher body temperature, or nausea. The best possible way to treat a worker suffering from heat exhaustion is to let them rest in a cool, shaded area or an air conditioned room, and make sure they drink plenty of fluids. If possible, have them take a cool shower.
- Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. The body temperature will increase quickly – to 103-105 degrees within as little as 10-15 minutes – and the sweating mechanism will fail, because the body is unable to control its temperature and cool down. Without emergency treatment, a victim of heat stroke victim can become medically incapacitated, sometimes permanently, or even die. The only treatment for heat stroke is to call 911 and move the worker to a cool, shaded area, where someone can try to cool them down by soaking their clothes with water and/or fanning them.
Working in the heat carries with it major risk factors, that all employers have to be aware of. They should always have a plan in place for what to do in case of heat illness. If you or someone you love has become ill or died on the job, and you suspect it to be heat-related, contact the Texas Workplace Safety Lawyer at Hill Law Firm today to discuss your legal rights.