Since the weather is warming and the temperatures are only expected to get hotter in the upcoming months, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has taken the initiative in launching a nationwide heat illness awareness campaign that targets outdoor workers.
According to OSHA, every year thousands of workers are sickened by heat exposure and some of them die; these heat-related illnesses are preventable. Workers who are exposed to hot and humid conditions are at the greatest risk of heat illness, particularly those workers who do heavy work tasks or use bulky protective clothing and equipment. Also, some workers are at more risk than others when they have not yet built up their tolerance to the heat.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that people suffer from heat-related illness when their body’s temperature control system is overloaded. The body normally cools itself down by sweating, but in extreme conditions, the sweating isn’t sufficient and the person’s body temperature can rise rapidly. The scary part is that a very high body temperature can damage the brain or other vital organs.
There are several factors that affect the body’s ability to cool itself off during extremely high temperatures. When the humidity is high, the sweat won’t evaporate fast enough, and this prevents the body from releasing the heat quickly. Other conditions that hinder the body’s ability to release heat quickly and efficiently include: old age, young age (0-4), obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, poor circulation, sunburn, prescription drug use, and alcohol use. Those individuals at the greatest risk of suffering from heat-related illness are infants and young children, people above the age of 65, people who are sick and people on certain medications.
Identifying Heat Stroke
The most serious heat-related illness is heat stroke; this occurs when the body is unable to control its temperature. When the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool itself down. When body temperatures rise above 106⁰F or more within 10 or 15 minutes, then heat stroke can follow causing death or permanent disability if emergency treatment isn’t provided in a timely manner. The warning signs of heat stroke can vary, but they can include the following:
- A body temperature above 103⁰F
- Skin that is red, hot and dry
- Rapid pulse
- A throbbing headache
Georgia is full of farms, particularly farms where pecans, peanuts, cotton and peaches are harvested, and many Georgians rely entirely on the agricultural industry to support their families. However, due to Georgia’s hot and humid summers, those who work in agriculture and construction have to be particularly aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness since heat stroke can be life-threatening. It’s important for both employers and workers to be aware of heat illness and how to prevent it from happening.
How can you prevent heat illness? Remember these three words: water, rest, and shade. It’s vital that anyone spending extending periods of time outside and in the heat drink plenty of water and often, regardless of their activity level. It’s also good to take breaks and limit the amount of time spent in the heat.
Employers should take prevention steps and include these prevention steps in worksite training. It’s important for workers to gradually build up to working in hot weather as this helps their bodies build up a tolerance to working in the heat; this is especially the case for workers who haven’t worked outside in the heat in a week or longer. Also, it’s important that workers know what symptoms to look out for and to not only watch out for themselves, but also their fellow co-workers.
Have you suffered serious brain or internal organ damage due to heat-related illness or has your loved one died because of heat stroke while working on the job? At Jones & Swanson, our Marietta personal injury attorneys handle cases where workers have been injured or killed because of work-related injuries and illnesses. If you have been injured during the course of your work, we urge you to contact our office right away to discuss your rights to compensation!