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How to protect workers from heat illness this summer

AdobeStock_88675329.jpegAs we head towards summer and temperatures begin to rise, those who work outside are at risk of serious heat-related illnesses.

Just last year, OSHA fined a Georgia farm labor contracting company nearly $13,000 following the death of an employee due to heat illness. The employee was reportedly picking tomatoes in temperatures of up to 97.5 degrees, in direct sunlight, when he began to show signs of overexertion and passed out before being taken to the hospital.

Heat-related illnesses can quickly become deadly – but they are preventable. Keep reading to learn which workers are at highest risk, how to spot heat illness, and how to prevent it. 



Who is at risk?

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), those who work outdoors or in hot environments are at highest risk for heat exhaustion. Those workers include:

  • Farm workers
  • Construction workers
  • Firefighters
  • Bakery workers
  • Miners
  • Factory workers

Workers older than 65, those with heart disease or who are overweight are at especially high risk of heat stress.

What are the warning signs of heat illness?

Extreme heat causes a variety of illnesses, such as heat stroke, heat rashes, and heat exhaustion. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Weak pulse
  • Clammy skin
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps

Workers who begin exhibiting these symptoms should stop working as soon as possible and move to a cooler place to rest. If left unchecked, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke – which can be fatal.

How can we prevent heat exhaustion?

Taking adequate breaks to rest and drink water is essential to avoid heat-related illnesses. Avoid working in direct sunlight. NIOSH also recommends wearing lightweight, loose-fitting clothing where appropriate.

Ideally, workers could access the resources they need to prevent heat illness. However, employers do not always follow through. If someone experiences severe heat exhaustion or heat stroke at work, they may be eligible for benefits through workers’ compensation. Consulting with a workers’ comp attorney can help clarify your rights.