For many, summer means relaxation and fun—kids are home from school, vacations are underway, and warmer temperatures make outdoor activities more enjoyable. But, with the summer heat comes a rise in workplace injuries. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows injury estimates to be similar most months, there is a definitive spike in reported injuries through the months of June, July, August, and September.
Millions of workers are exposed to high heat in their workplaces during the summer months. Although heat illnesses are preventable, thousands of workers become sick or injured from heat exposure. Workers with outdoor jobs in industries such as landscaping, roofing, road construction, and agriculture are at the greatest risk, although indoor workers (think bakers, laundry attendants, and chefs) can be at risk for heat illnesses too.
Common Heat-Related Summer Workplace Injuries
Extreme heat health emergencies range from moderate to severe starting with heat cramps to life-threatening heat stroke. The three stages of heat emergencies are:
Heat Cramps: Heat cramps are the first sign of a heat-related illness. Heat cramps occur when the body becomes dehydrated and loses more fluid than it takes in. Heat cramps are involuntary muscle spasms that usually occur in the calves, arms, and abdomen, but can also occur in any muscle area that is being used at the time.
Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion occurs when the body becomes overheated. Symptoms include heavy sweating, rapid pulse, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, headache, muscle cramps, and fainting. Heat exhaustion is caused by exposure to high temperatures, especially when combined with humid conditions and physical labor or activity – a common combo for outdoor workers.
Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and happens when the body cannot control its temperature. It usually happens quickly, and the body temperature can rise to 106°F in as little as 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability without proper medical treatment or health care. In addition to the symptoms of heat exhaustion, heat stroke also causes a throbbing headache, confusion, and unconsciousness.
Other less common but still serious heat related injuries include:
- rhabdomyolysis, a condition where prolonged physical exertion in the heat leads to muscle damage;
- heat syncope, an illness that results in a fainting or dizziness spell after prolonged sitting or standing; and
- heat rash, a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating.
Working Safely in the Summer Heat
Working in extreme environments with high humidity and temperatures requires additional safety precautions and measures by both the employer and the employee. Employers should include information about hazardous heat conditions in their safety program as well as provide education for what to do if someone is experiencing a heat-related emergency.
If you are working outside during the summer months, keep these safety tips in mind to mitigate heat hazards:
- Stay hydrated. Water is one of the best defenses against getting sick or injured because of the heat. In general, drink a small amount of water every 15 minutes to stay hydrated.
- Take breaks in the shade. When in the shade, you can feel 10-15 degrees cooler than when you are in the sun. Although the temperature is the same, the shade protects you from solar radiation. As much as possible, take breaks in the shade to help regulate your body temperature.
- Wear light-colored, loose clothing. Wearing light colors helps to reflect the damaging, harsh sun and maintain a healthy body temperature. If your job allows for you to safely wear a hat, wear one. Wearing a hat with a brim can protect your face from sun exposure. Avoid taking off your shirt to cool off, as this can expose your skin to the sun and put you at risk for sunburn or heat rash.
- Reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine in excess can cause dehydration. While you may need it for a boost in the morning, consider cutting back during heat waves or if you are going to be outside for an extended period of time.
- Avoid heavy foods. Heavy, fatty foods take longer for your body to digest and can actually cause your body to create metabolic heat. Eat small meals and light snacks throughout the day. Be sure to incorporate greens like spinach or kale, and fruits like bananas, watermelon, and cherries which contain electrolytes.
- Wear a cooling vest. Cooling vests can be a great tool to help regulate your body temperature on a hot work site. Cooling vests have pockets that hold chilled inserts and can be reused.
- Skip happy hour. Happy hour may seem like the perfect way to unwind after a long, hot day working outside, but if you have to do it again the next day, take it easy. Drinking alcohol in excess will cause your body to become dehydrated the following day and put you at risk for a heat-related emergency.
- Know your risk. The best way to avoid a heat-related injury is to be aware and know of your risk before you head to the job site. Young workers are more likely to fall ill from heat because they do not have the experience of other tenured team members. Know your risk and take the proper precautions to avoid heat injuries.
While employees can keep themselves safe on the job, employers also have the responsibility to protect their employees from injuries by setting up safe worksites, allowing for frequent breaks, adjusting work hours to avoid midday work when the heat is at its peak, and providing safety training for all team members.
Employee Rights When Injured on the Job
Injured workers have a right to file a workers’ compensation claim, even for heat-related injuries or illnesses. Most employers in Pennsylvania are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance which provides wage replacement and medical benefits for an injured employee.
Employees who are injured on the job this summer should follow these steps:
- Inform your employer of your injury. You can be denied benefits if you do not disclose your injury, so it’s important to let your employer know. While you have 120 days to inform your company, if you wait until after 21 days, it can affect your benefits. Don’t wait.
- Seek medical attention. To be eligible for compensation benefits, you may be required to visit an employer-approved physician for the first 90 days after injury. Document everything before, during, and after your visits to the doctor. Medical records are an important piece of evidence during the claims process, so even if you don’t feel like your injury isn’t life-threatening or worthy of a visit to the doctor, you should still get a medical opinion so it is on record.
- Get an attorney on your side. If you are unsure of the process or what is required, you should seek representation from a workers’ compensation law firm. It’s especially important to contact an attorney if your employer refuses to submit your injury report to the PA Department of Labor and Industry Division of Workers Compensation, which is against the law. Your employer may also deny responsibility for your injury, which may require you to file a claim petition. To ensure your rights are protected, get in touch to speak with an attorney.
Workers’ Comp for Summer Injuries
Navigating the workers’ compensation benefits system for work-related injuries can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Having a partner like Dale E. Anstine Personal Injury Law Firm on your side can help alleviate the stress and frustration of the process while getting you the proper compensation you deserve. If you’ve suffered a heat-related injury on the job or experienced other illnesses or injuries as a result of your work, reach out today. Consultations are always free, and there is no fee unless we win for you!