Make no mistake, it is hot outside in South Carolina. While for many of this means putting on our bathing suits and going for a swim or hiding in air conditioned buildings, it means grueling days for any workers who do their jobs outside. When the sun beats and the temperatures soar, it’s crucial to stay safe from the heat. That’s why the during the summer weather, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) pushes safety training and preventative measures to reduce heat related illnesses.
Although there are a variety of different heat related illnesses, they are all generally brought on by extended exposure to excessive heat and humidity without rest or enough fluid intake. The human body is constantly working to maintain an internal temperature of 98.6 degrees. When outside temperatures reach this level or go beyond, it becomes extremely taxing for the body to maintain its normal temperature. If the cooling mechanisms fail, a person’s body stores the heat, causing their temperature to rise and heart rate to increase.
Workers spending a large percentage of their time working outside can develop any of the following heat-related illnesses:
- Heat Stroke – A worker who faints or feels confused, is sweating profusely, has seizures, and an an elevated temperature, may be suffering from heat stroke. It is the most serious of heat related illnesses and without emergency treatment, heat stroke can lead to permanent disabilities or death.
- Heat Exhaustion – Workers with high blood pressure and the elderly are particularly susceptible to heat exhaustion, a condition due to a lack of water and salt, usually brought on by sweating. Symptoms to watch out for include dizziness, nausea, headache, heavy sweating, thirst, and body temperatures over 100.4 degrees. If someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, they should be taken out of the heat, given liquids, and have a medical evaluation.
- Heat Cramps – A loss of fluids from sweat may also lead to heat cramps are less serious and can be treated by replenishing fluids. Drink water, or sports drinks, every 15 to 20 minutes to avoid heat cramps. Cramps are also a symptom of heat exhaustion.
- Heat rash – Heat rash, sometimes called prickly heat and miliaria, can happen to workers if their pores (sweat ducts) trap perspiration under the skin. When this happens, the skin may feel prickly or itchy and blisters or red lumps may from. Typically, the condition clears on its own and the best way to treat it is cooling the skin down.
Preventative Measures Encouraged By OSHA
Although all heat-related illnesses and fatality cases are 100 percent preventable, there were still 2,630 workers who suffered from heat illness and 18 fatalities from heat stroke in 2014. This is why OSHA is concentrating its efforts on preventing heat illness through education and placing calling on employers to take responsibility for protecting workers. Any employers who expose their employees to high temperatures should have a heat illness prevention program incorporating the following:
- Adequate water, rest, and shade;
- Slowly increasing workloads for new or returning employees by offering more frequent breaks as they build up their tolerance to working in the heat;
- Educating workers to recognize the signs of heat illness, how to treat them, and especially how to prevent them;
- Have a plan in case of emergency; and
- Monitor workers to ensure they are taking appropriate preventative measures.
Workers, of course, must also take the initiative to prevent any heat related illnesses or fatalities. If you are working outside in the heat, remember to:
- Drink water approximately every 15 minutes, regardless of whether or not you are thirsty;
- Periodically take breaks in a shaded area to cool down;
- If possible, wear light-colored clothing and a hat;
- Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of heat illnesses and how to handle an emergency;
- Help monitor coworkers; and
- Remember that it is important to acclimatize yourself to work – don’t push yourself too hard in hot weather until you’ve done the job for a while.
If any worker shows signs of heat stroke or heat exhaustion, it’s important to get help by contacting a supervisor while someone stays with the victim.
South Carolina Workers Most at Risk
Because temperatures in South Carolina can be grueling, especially during the summer months, any worker who is out in hot and humid conditions could be affected, including construction and road crews, agricultural workers, landscapers, and many others. Workers who are new to being in hot environments are more at risk, with roughly 80 percent of cases happening to workers who had spent less than a week on the job.
Understanding the Heat Index
Rather than just using temperature as an indicator, assessing the risk for heat-related illnesses is better done using the heat index. The heat index is a measurement which takes into account both temperature and humidity, making it a more accurate predictor of risks brought on by environmental heat sources. It’s critical to factor relative humidity in with the temperature because sweat won’t evaporate as quickly in humid places as it would dry ones. This effectively means our cooling mechanisms are weakened when it is very humid, making us feel hotter. Of course, low humidity can potentially cause problems as well, if, for instance, it is so dry that rapidly evaporating sweat leaves a worker dehydrated.
When calculating the heat index, employers should also keep in mind that if workers are facing certain conditions, the heat index may need to be adjusted. Working in direct sunlight, for example, adds as much as 15 degrees to the head index. In addition, prolonged or strenuous work and wearing heavy protective clothing or impermeable uniforms can also increase the heat index.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyer In Greenville
If you have been injured at work and are ready to file a workers’ compensation claim, you need someone on your side to fight for your rights. Call the Dan Pruitt Injury Law Firm to consult with a dedicated workers’ compensation lawyer in Greenville who has extensive experience and success handling claims. For any questions regarding injuries and workers’ compensation in Greenville, South Carolina, contact us today.