Investigators for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration have recommended thousands of dollars in fines against a company whose worker collapsed on the job and later died due to heat stress. When he was rushed to the hospital, the 47-year-old had a core body temperature of 107 degrees. The heat index that day in Jefferson City, MO was 90 degrees.
The worker had been installing roofing material at a high school construction project. It was only the laborer’s third day on the job, and allegedly, the company had not allowed enough time for him to become acclimated to toiling in the high temperatures.
That’s the case in a lot of work-related heat stress deaths. Workers are new to a position, and they aren’t physically accustomed to working long stretches outside in the sun and heat. Workers – especially those new to the job – need to be afforded frequent access to water, rest, and shade during hot summer months. While this may seem a low priority for workplaces as we head into the colder months, the fact is we should be talking about worker exposure risk year-round. Cold stress also is a serious problem for outdoor workers, and one for which companies must also plan.
In the Missouri case, federal investigators said the roofing contractor that employed the laborer failed to:
- Train supervisors and other workers about the proper response when an employee reports a head-induced illness or symptoms of it. This response involves halting the work, moving the worker to a cool place, and providing aid, an evaluation, and medical assistance.
- Require those trained supervisors to conduct in-person evaluations of workers who complain they may have some heat-induced symptoms.
- Establish rules and practices that urge workers to seek evaluation and assistance if they are suffering from heat stress.
One of the most common symptoms of heat stroke is a noted mental change, involving confusion or irritability.
It should be noted that heat stroke is a medical emergency, and if there is even a possibility that it could be happening, someone needs to call 911 immediately.
If at all possible, companies should try to assign work on cooler days or during a cooler part of the day. They should reduce worker loads and physical labor demands on hot days and make a schedule for rest periods. It usually takes a worker between two and three weeks to get acclimated to working in a hot environment.
As for cold stress, workers who may be especially vulnerable include sanitation workers, police officers, emergency responders, snow cleanup crews, and utility workers.
These are all individuals who work outdoors in a cold environment for extended periods of time. When a person is in a cold environment, they use their body energy to keep the internal core temperature warm. However, over time, the body will start to shift that blood flow away from the extremities (i.e., legs, arms, hands, and feet) and outer skin to the core. When body heat is lost faster than it can be replaced, it can be very dangerous. A person chilled by rain, sweat, or being submerged in cold water is going to be at even higher risk.
A worker who may be suffering from hypothermia or frostbite should receive immediate medical attention, be moved to a warm, dry place, and have wet clothes removed and replaced with dry clothes, covering the entire body except for the face.
If you have been injured at work due to exposure to the elements, it’s critical that you first seek the appropriate medical care and then turn to an experienced work injury lawyer.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
More Blog Entries:
Hood v. State, ex rel. Department of Workforce Services – Work Injury Claim, Nov. 9, 2016, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog