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Outdoor Worker Safety: The Heat Is On

There’s an old saying that goes, “If you don’t like the weather, wait around a few minutes.” And lately this seems even truer, with 2011 bringing everything from stronger-than-normal weather events to the downright strange. This summer in the United States, a massive heat wave, alternately referred to as a “hot dome” or “pressure-cooker”, blasted even typically cooler areas like Chicago and Fargo. With these areas unprepared for such temperature extremes, numerous heat-related deaths and injuries have occurred. Particularly at risk during these high-heat weather conditions are workers whose jobs take them outdoors.

Many outdoor workers are expected to keep working even during the hottest of days despite heat-related deaths averaging about 700 a year. However, many states have adopted labor laws or standards regarding working in high temperatures. California enacted a number of such laws in 2005 after twelve workers died from high-heat exposure. Similarly, national agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offer guidelines to recognize heat-related illnesses, as well as tips to prevent them from occurring.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most dangerous of heat-related illnesses, potentially causing permanent disability and even leading to death. Symptoms include: high body temperatures, loss of consciousness, seizures, confusion, headache, lack of or excessive sweating. Seek emergency medical assistance immediately, and cool the victim down by moving them to a cool, shaded area and removing unnecessary clothing. Attempt to lower their body temperature by applying cold, wet compresses, wetting their clothing and skin, or applying ice packs.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a dangerous condition that often is a result of over-heating combined with dehydration. Symptoms include: nausea, confusion, excessive sweating, high body temperatures, dizziness, increased heart beat, weakness, and thirst. A worker experiencing these symptoms should rest in a cool area out of the sun, remove excessive clothing, apply water or wet compresses to the skin, and rehydrate by drinking cold, caffeine-free fluids like water. If symptoms do not improve or worsen, seek medical assistance.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps, as the name implies, are body cramps caused when sweating causes the excessive loss of vital fluids and salt. While not usually deadly, this condition is painful and distracting. It can be particularly dangerous for workers with heart or other medical conditions, and can be a precursor to more dangerous heat-related conditions if not treated. A worker with heat cramps should rest in a cool, shaded area, and drink an uncaffeinated cool liquid like water. Do not return to work until symptoms subside. Seek out medical attention if you have an existing medical condition or if symptoms remain or worsen.

Additionally, workers can rapidly succumb to the heat in ways that can cause injuries on the job. For instance, exertion in high heats can at times lead to sudden dizziness or fainting, leading to deadly falls or other accidents. Therefore, it’s important to monitor not only yourself, but also your coworkers for signs of lethargy, confusion or excessive sweating while working outdoors. Employers should require and/or encourage workers to take frequent breaks, to regularly drink water, and to wear light-colored, loose clothing that both allows air to reach the skin while also protecting it from the sun. If you suspect your employer is not following safe-working standards for working in high temperatures, or if you or someone you know has been injured as a result of working in such conditions, contact a Chicago workers compensation lawyer who can advise you of your rights.

About the Author: Brooke Haley marketing associate at Millon & Peskin, Chicago workers compensation attorney that practice in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers’ Compensation, and Personal Injury. Millon & Peskin is a General Civil Litigation Practice with the goal of representing the interests of injured workers, throughout all applicable Courts within the State of Illinois. For more information, please visit http://www.millonpeskin.com.

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