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Heat stroke is a real concern for outdoor workers

| Sep 23, 2014 | Workers’ Compensation

Exposure to excessive heat is a serious danger for people who work outdoors. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 423 American workers died from heat illness during the years 1992 through 2006. The combination of hot weather, heavy protective clothing, hard physical labor, and bulky equipment can make some professions such as firefighting especially hazardous. All outdoor employees in Illinois, even those who work in less strenuous jobs, should be aware of the risks and symptoms of heat stroke.

What is heat stroke?

The human body has a complicated mechanism for staying cool in hot weather. When body temperature rises, blood flow increases and the skin produces sweat to help cool off. Under extreme conditions, these attempts at cooling are no longer sufficient, and the body begins to suffer damage. Most people who work outdoors have experienced mild symptoms of heat stress, such as heat rash or headaches. If heat illness is allowed to progress, it can rapidly develop into the fatal condition known as heat stroke, in which the body loses the ability to regulate its own temperature. Heat stroke can lead to organ damage, coma and death in just a few minutes.

What are the signs of heat stroke?

Everyone who works outdoors or supervises employees outdoors should know the symptoms of heat stroke. The most common signs include the following:

  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Nausea
  • Rapid pulse
  • Skin that is dry and hot to the touch
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

People who exhibit any of these signs must be moved to a cool location and given immediate medical care.

How can the risk of heat stroke be decreased?

The Department of Labor calculated in 2011 that one out of every 500 workers is regularly exposed to life-threatening levels of heat stress. This category includes firefighters, forestry professionals, and other high-risk employees. Many other outdoor workers are also at risk of heat stroke, especially during heat waves or periods of especially intense labor. Every outdoor work site must offer sufficient hydration, access to shade, appropriate work-rest schedules, and training in recognizing and preventing heat-related illnesses. Heat acclimatization programs can also be a valuable technique for keeping workers healthy, comfortable and productive during hot weather.

Working outdoors in the heat can be life-threatening if proper precautions are not taken. By knowing the signs of heat stroke and the best practices for avoiding it, you can stay safer on the job. Consider speaking with a legal professional to find out more about your rights as an outdoor worker.