Workers can suffer heat stroke and heat exhaustion due to many factors.
It doesn't have to be a blistering hot sunny day for California workers to be at risk of heat stress. According to OSHA researchers, many heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, occur at low to moderate temperatures - including those below 65 degrees. While workers are at the highest risk for heat stress on days with temperatures above 77 degrees, many other factors can cause an employee to overheat.
In California, you have the right to apply for workers' compensation benefits if you were hurt at work or developed a work-related illness. Unfortunately, navigating the Calfornia workers' compensation system isn't easy, and it's common for injured workers to encounter problems during the process. For example, your employer could argue that your injury or illness is not work-related. Consequently, you could have to pay for your medical bills out of pocket if your claim is denied.
As a result, it's in your interest to seek legal advice if you've been hurt at work in Southern California. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can review the details of your work injury or illness, answer your questions, and give you a clear understanding of your legal rights and options for obtaining workers' compensation benefits.
Heat risks at work
Among the industries where workers are most at risk for heat-related illnesses are agriculture, construction, maritime, oil extraction, transportation, and landscaping.
Heat stress can be caused by many factors, including:
- Natural conditions such as temperature, humidity, sunlight, and wind speed. The risk to worker health increases when the weather outside is too hot or muggy multiple days in a row, like a heat wave.
- Equipment that can act as a heat source can significantly increase workspace temperatures. This equipment includes things like tar ovens, fires, and furnaces.
- Work surfaces that absorb sunlight and increase heat like rooftop materials or reflective surfaces like water, glass, and metal that direct sunlight on workers.
- Clothing that prevents ventilation or protective gear that reduces the body's ability to lose excess heat.
- Individual worker medical and personal risk factors. Metabolic heat (body heat) can be raised by age, weight, and prescription medications.
- Physical demands of the job, like a heavy workload, can lead to increased body heat production and heat stress, especially when the outside conditions are hot, too. "Heavy" and "very heavy" workloads put employees at the highest risk of heat stress. Tasks that should be avoided on very hot days or during peak hours of sunlight include:
- Stacking lumber or concrete.
- Truck and car repair.
- Grinding and cutting.
- Drilling rock or concrete.
- Mixing cement.
- Felling trees.
- Using an ax or sledgehammer.
- Brick or stone masonry.
- Rapid physical fitness training, ladder or stair climbing.
Heat illness symptoms at work
Symptoms of heat stress are typically visible to others and may be observed by a coworker before the at-risk employee is aware. Therefore, it is important to know the signs and how to help employees who may be suffering from one of the two major types of heat illness - exhaustion and stroke.
- Heat exhaustion symptoms include dizziness, headache, sweaty skin, fast heartbeat, nausea, weakness, and cramps. Employees suffering from this level of heat illness can be treated by immediately entering a cooler environment, like an air-conditioned room or cab, cool compresses, rest, and drinking lots of fluids.
- Heat stroke is more severe. Symptoms include red and hot skin, no sweat, high body temperature, fainting, confusion, convulsions, and loss of consciousness. Heat stroke requires immediate emergency medical attention. Call 911 if you see these signs.
Heat can injure workers indirectly, too. For example, if dizzy or confused by extreme heat, an employee may slip and fall or drop heavy equipment on themselves or others, causing severe injuries.
California employer heat safety requirements
In California, employers are required to take these steps to prevent heat illness at work:
- Training. Employees and supervisors must be made aware of heat illness prevention methods.
- Water. Employers must provide enough fresh water so every employee can drink at least 1 quart per hour, or four 8-ounce glasses of water per hour - and encourage them to do so.
- Shade. Employees must have access to shade and be encouraged to cool down and rest for at least 5 minutes. Employees should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.
- Planning. Preventing heat stress begins with evaluating the risk of over-exposure to heat in each task of the day and coming up with ways to offset high temperatures.
Heat illness is serious. In the U.S., more than 40 workers died due to heat illness, and another 2,400 were made seriously ill in 2019, according to OSHA.
Find out if you're eligible for workers' comp benefits today.
At McLaughlin & Sanchez, we are committed to helping injured workers in Southern California get their lives back on track. Whether you need help moving your workers' comp claim forward, have been denied reasonable and necessary medical care, were injured due to the negligence of a third party at work, or your workers' comp claim was denied, we have the knowledge, experience, and resources to fight for the outcome your case deserves.
Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Southern California workers' compensation lawyer from our law offices in San Diego, Chula Vista, or Temecula (by appointment only).