What are the Health Risks of Working Outside During the Summer?May 11, 2021
Working outside under any extreme weather conditions can put workers at risk for a range of health complications. During the cold winter months, workers have to protect themselves from things such as hypothermia, frostbite, and slip and fall accidents from slippery, icy conditions. As summer approaches and the temperatures rise, workers who spend the majority of their time outdoors must consider the health risks associated with working in the heat. Maryland summers can be extremely hot and humid, and if workers do not take the necessary precautions, they can suffer a range of heat-related illnesses, particularly if they work outside during the hottest hours of the day. Fortunately, many of these conditions can be prevented by staying hydrated and taking steps to avoid prolonged heat exposure. However, if a worker does suffer a heat-related illness while on the job, he or she may be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits.
What are Common Heat-Related Health Issues?
When the temperatures start to climb into the 80s, 90s, or hotter, construction workers, landscapers, and other employees who work outside during the hottest times of the day are at risk of developing heat-related illnesses if they do not take the appropriate precautions. The body has a way of cooling itself off by sweating and increasing blood flow to the skin. However, if that does not work, workers can develop any of the following health issues:
- Heat cramps: These are the mildest types of heat-related injuries. Common symptoms include painful leg cramps and flushed, moist skin. The worker may also experience spasms during or after performing physically demanding work in extreme heat and humidity.
- Heat exhaustion: This is more serious than heat cramps. It is caused by a loss of water and salt in the body and occurs when the body is no longer able to cool itself off. If it is not treated, it can progress to heat stroke. Common symptoms include muscle cramps; pale, moist skin; fever; nausea; vomiting; fatigue; headache; and diarrhea.
- Heat stroke: This is the most serious heat-related illness, which occurs when the body’s heat-regulating system is severely taxed by excessive heat. It is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. Common symptoms include warm, dry skin; high fever; rapid heart rate; nausea; vomiting; headache; fatigue; confusion; seizures; and coma. In extreme cases, heat stroke can be fatal.
What Do I Need to Know About the Heat Index?
Workers can easily become dehydrated and experience a range of heat-related illnesses when working outside in the summer heat. The risk of heat-related illnesses is even higher as the weather gets hotter and more humid. In fact, the more humid it is outside, the hotter it feels. That is where the heat index comes in. This is a single value that takes temperature and humidity into account. For example, if the temperature is 96 degrees Fahrenheit and the relative humidity is 65 percent, the heat index, or so-called feels-like temperature, is 121 degrees Fahrenheit. In general, working in the direct sunlight can add up to 15 degrees to the heat index.
What are the Best Ways to Cope with the Heat?
The best way to avoid heat-related illnesses is to take proactive steps to stay safe and healthy when working in extreme weather conditions. Some of these tips are common sense, yet they are extremely important for workers to keep in mind when working outside during the hot summer months.
- Stay hydrated: It is extremely important for workers to drink plenty of water when working outside during the hot summer months. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workers should drink at least one liter of water per hour, which is equal to one cup every 15 minutes. In addition, workers are urged to also consume drinks such as Gatorade to replace the electrolytes they lose when they sweat.
- Take frequent breaks throughout the day: This is important, particularly if the majority of the work is being done during the hottest hours of the day. Workers should find a shady spot or an air-conditioned room to cool off, hydrate, and get out of the sun. If workers fail to take the necessary breaks, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that they do so.
- Take time to acclimate to the heat: It takes time for the body to acclimate to extreme weather conditions. Acclimatization allows the body to slowly build up tolerance to the heat over several days. New workers should start out with 20 percent exposure on the first day and increase the amount by no more than 20 percent each day. If there is a drastic change in temperature, workers should adjust to the climate by reducing their time outside by half, then slowly increase the outdoor workload over the next three days. This allows the body to get used to the heat in a safe and gradual manner.
- Wear appropriate clothing: Workers are encouraged to wear lightweight, light-colored clothing if at all possible, unless they are required to wear specific gear for protection. Workers should also wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 45.
- Make smart choices when eating or drinking: In addition to drinking plenty of fluids, workers should avoid consuming caffeine, sugary soda, or alcohol before working in the heat. Smaller, more frequent meals are recommended instead of fewer large meals. If the worker is taking any medication, they should confirm whether it is safe to take if they spend time working in the heat.
- Check the weather: Workers should monitor the local weather forecast to find out what the temperature is going to be on any given day, as well as the heat index so the worker is prepared for the feels-like heat. Workers can download the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety App to calculate what the heat index is going to be at the worksite. This can help the worker take the necessary precautions to stay safe and avoid heat-related illnesses.
- Use the buddy system: Workers are urged to partner up with working outside. If a worker starts to exhibit symptoms associated with heat-related illnesses, the other worker can call for help, remove the worker from the hot area, help the worker get hydrated, place ice or a cold compress on their body, and stay with them until help arrives.
What Should Employers Do to Protect Workers from Heat-Related Illnesses?
Employers have a responsibility to ensure that all workers are safe and protected from workplace hazards. That includes employees who work outside. When the weather calls for extreme heat, employers are expected to follow a heat-related illness prevention program, which should include the following:
- Make sure that all workers are properly trained on how to recognize, prevent, and treat heat-related illnesses.
- Provide adequate hydration, including water and electrolyte-replacing liquids.
- Monitor workers closely during particularly hot weather.
- Make sure that workers have access to cool or shady areas where they can cool off.
- Create a heat acclimatization program for workers.
- Monitor work practices to reduce environmental heat stress and exertion.
- Monitor the weather report regularly and adjust the schedule so that workers are not performing extremely strenuous tasks during the hottest times of the day.
What Should I Do if I Suffered a Heat-Related Illness While on the Job?
Anytime a worker suffers an injury or illness while on the job, they will likely be eligible to collect Workers’ Compensation benefits. The worker must notify their employer about the illness or injury as soon as possible. Ideally, this should be done immediately, but the worker generally has 10 days to report the illness. The employer will then submit an Employer’s First Report to the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission. The worker is urged to follow up with the employer to ensure that this report has been submitted. The worker will then submit an Employee’s Claim for Compensation with the Workers’ Compensation Commission, which must be submitted within two years of the incident. Assuming there are no errors on the claim and the claim is approved, the worker will start to receive financial benefits, which include the following:
- Compensation for medical expenses related to the injury or illness
- Lost wages if the worker was unable to return to work for an extended period
- Vocational rehabilitation
- Temporary or permanent disability benefits
- Death benefits for the surviving family members if the illness resulted in a fatality
Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Assist Workers Who Suffered a Heat-Related Illness
If you or someone you know suffered a serious heat-related illness while on the job, you are urged to contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton at your earliest convenience. We will assist you with every step of the claims process, address all of your questions and concerns, and secure the maximum financial benefits you deserve. We will continue to fight for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.
Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.