As summer temperatures climb, those who work outdoors risk being harmed by extreme heat. In reality, heat-related dangers exist in many workplaces all year. For that reason, employers and employees must be aware of the dangers and be knowledgeable about how to prevent heat injuries. Besides those who work outdoors, such as construction workers, farmers, and road crews, other individuals who work in hot environments are at risk. The effects of heat can cause great harm and even death. It is vital for workers to realize how dangerous heat can be. Furthermore, those who work in hot environments should be aware of proven measures to help prevent heat injuries, as well as the protocols to treat heat injuries when they occur.
What are the Dangers Associated with Extreme Heat?
Extreme heat can cause problems for the human body. People who work in hot environments, particularly those who perform manual labor for extended periods of time, should be mindful of the health risks that they face. When a person is exposed to high temperatures, he or she can experience a variety of health issues ranging from mild to severe. Heat can cause issues such as discomfort, fainting, regulatory system failure, and death. To understand the full extent of heat dangers, it helps to understand how the body reacts to heat.
What are the Body’s Natural Responses to Intense Heat?
The human body has ways to regulate its temperature. When the environmental heat rises, the body will try to acclimate to the higher temperature. Trouble occurs when the body’s temperature adjustment mechanisms cannot keep up with the rising temperature or when exposure becomes too much to handle.
Our body’s most common response to heat is to produce sweat in an effort to cool the surface of the skin. Clothing made of certain materials can interfere with the body’s attempts to cool itself. Humid conditions may also prevent sweating from being an effective cooling technique. If sweating causes the body to lose too much salt, an imbalance of electrolytes can cause problems.
Another way the body responds is through blood circulation. In order to regulate the body’s temperature, blood supply is diverted to capillaries near the skin’s surface where it can be cooled. This approach does not work when the temperature outside the body is higher than it is inside. The attempt to cool itself in this way can put undue stress on the heart.
What Problems Can Extreme Heat Cause?
The body reacts to extreme heat in several different ways. A common reaction is heat rash. Inappropriate clothing or too much humidity can cause heat rash when sweat ducts become clogged and irritated. Heat rash bumps can be itchy and uncomfortable. The irritated skin glands may also become infected. Heat rash can be prevented by wearing natural, breathable fabrics, like cotton. To treat heat rash, wash the skin with soap and cool water.
The body’s circulatory system also responds to heat; this affects the blood supply to the brain and causes a lack of oxygen that may result in fainting. Falling during a fainting spell is hazardous enough with the risk of hitting one’s head, but a worker who is handling dangerous tools or materials is at a higher risk. Heat-induced fainting can be prevented by allowing the body time to acclimate to the heat. If a worker faints, treatment may involve cool compresses or a fan, as well as providing cool water to drink.
Workers should be mindful of the symptoms when working in extreme heat. When the body’s water and electrolyte levels are depleted through excessive sweating, the results can include dizziness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, chills, headache, and pale or flushed skin. Additionally, body temperature may rise slightly. Prevention for heat exhaustion includes lying down in a cool environment, drinking cold water, and a medical evaluation.
Some people may experience heat cramps caused by heat-induced electrolyte imbalances in workers performing physically demanding tasks in the heat. Interestingly, muscle spasms occur when a person has not had enough to drink, as well as someone who has consumed too much water. To prevent heat cramps, the amount of salt in the body must remain in balance. The right amount of water to consume while working under such conditions is about a cup of water or electrolyte solution every 20 minutes. To treat heat cramps, a cool drink containing an electrolyte solution can help. If cramps persist for more than an hour, medical attention may be necessary.
A serious concern for people who work in hot environments is the threat of heat stroke, which occurs when the body reacts to the inability to cool itself. Recognizing the signs of heat stroke and reacting appropriately is crucial. Symptoms of heat stroke include disorientation, delirium, dilated pupils, high temperature, hot or dry skin, loss of consciousness, and possible seizures. Immediate medical attention is necessary. Extreme cases of heat stroke have resulted in brain damage and even death. The right treatment for a heat stroke is vital. Call emergency medical personnel to the scene. In the meantime, the person should be taken to a cool area. Wet the person’s clothes to bring the body’s temperature down and fan them with cool air to hasten the cooling process.
Additionally, there are other ways heat can increase the odds of being hurt. Sweaty hands can cause difficulty gripping tools. High temperatures can cause safety goggles to fog, which presents the risk of dangerous mistakes. Fatigue caused by heat can produce similar problems when workers are not as sharp or careful as they should be. Prevent accidents by taking breaks and staying hydrated. Injuries from accidents should be evaluated for appropriate medical treatment.
What Measures Prevent Heat-Related Health Issues?
Once workers and employers understand the dangers of heat-related injuries, they should take the appropriate steps to mitigate the likelihood of such outcomes. People should start by dressing for high-temperature conditions. Breathable, lightweight fabrics work in many situations, but that can depend on the job. Some jobs require heat-resistant clothing to protect workers.
Likewise, specific tools may be employed to limit physical exertion, and additional staff can reduce the strain on workers. Other measures include taking regular breaks away from the heat and maintaining hydration. In indoor environments, ventilation and fans can help. Recognizing and mitigating risk is only part of the equation; a safe work environment also involves a plan for managers and workers to remain vigilant by checking on each other for signs of heat-related issues. Employers should also have a first-aid station set up for rapid response to heat emergencies.
Are Certain Individuals More at Risk for Heat-Related Issues?
While everyone should be careful while working in high temperatures, certain individuals are at a greater risk for complications due to extreme heat. Those who are overweight, over 64 years old, or have heart or blood pressure issues may be more susceptible to the effects of heat. Those on a low-sodium diet and those who are taking diuretics, thyroid medicines, tricyclic antidepressants, and some anti-psychotic medications may also be at a higher risk.
Should I Hire a Lawyer?
If a worker suffers a heat-related injury on the job, they should file a Workers’ Compensation claim. Additionally, an injured worker is encouraged to speak to a lawyer who will help with their case. A lawyer will determine the types of benefits the worker is entitled to and will fight for the worker’s rights.
Bucks County Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Help Injured Workers Receive Necessary Benefits
Workers who have heat-related injuries may be eligible to collect Workers’ Compensation benefits. Our Bucks County Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. can help you collect the benefits you deserve. Contact us online or call us at 888-999-1962 for a free case evaluation. Located in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.