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Heat-related workplace illnesses and deaths continue to climb

From farming to construction, some jobs require workers to spend time outdoors and in the heat. Sadly, according to reporting from NPR, at least 384 workers have died from heat exposure in the last decade alone.

While the human body tends to acclimate to heat over time, hotter temperatures due to climate change are likely to pose considerable risks to outdoor workers in the future. Those who suffer serious injuries or develop critical illnesses at work may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

How much heat can workers stand?

While everyone is different, the human body can only tolerate a wet-bulb temperature of 95 degrees. Wet-bulb temperatures are different than air temperatures, as they account for both heat and humidity. To measure wet-bulb temperature, scientists submerge a thermometer in the water and wrap it in a wet cloth.

How does excessive heat affect health?

Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can be deadly. Workers may suffer four progressively worse heat-related illnesses:

  • Heat rash, which is a painful irritation of the skin
  • Heat cramps, which are painful cramps in major muscle groups
  • Heat exhaustion, which includes elevated heart rate, rapid breathing and profuse sweating
  • Heatstroke, which happens when the body’s temperature climbs to 106 degrees or higher

How do workers stay safe?

To avoid developing a heat-related illness, employees should take regular breaks in cool areas. Consuming adequate fluids is also essential. Still, because heatstroke is a potentially life-threatening condition, workers may require urgent medical attention.

Ultimately, because temperatures are likely to continue to rise, employers must take immediate steps to keep workers safe.