Are you a construction worker in Illinois, or do you work in landscaping, transportation, agriculture or on an oil rig? These are but some of the outdoor jobs that expose workers to the wrath of the sun. Thousands of workers suffer heat-related illnesses every year — some of them do not survive. Just like protecting their employees from exposure to the cold of winter, employers must take steps to protect workers from excessive heat in the summer.
Heat illness is preventable, and safety training can teach workers to recognize the symptoms. Prompt treatment during the initial stages can prevent a worker's condition from deteriorating until it becomes a life-threatening situation.
Safety authorities warn that most heat-related employee fatalities occur within the first three days of employment, in fact, more than one-third of those deaths happen on the first day on the job. For that reason, instituting an acclimatization plan is crucial. For the first two weeks after summer heat sets in, workers' bodies must be allowed to adjust by exposing them for more extended periods every day. This applies to both new employees and any others who have not worked outdoors for at least one week.
Learn the symptoms
Your employer must ensure that you and your co-workers learn to recognize the telltale signs of heat exhaustion. Reacting on initial signs can prevent escalation into emergencies. Symptoms for which to look out include headache, dizziness, sweaty skin, muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, accelerated heartbeat and weakness. If you ignore this initial stage, your skin can become dry, hot and red, and you could suffer convulsions that might lead to fainting and confusion. Once this happens, your life will be at risk, needing emergency treatment along with a professional evaluation.
Precautions to prevent heat illness
Employers can take the following precautionary steps that will keep employees safe in conditions that could cause heat-related illnesses:
- Encourage workers to wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing, and provide the necessary personal protective equipment.
- Provide air-conditioned or shaded areas and allow workers to take frequent rest breaks to cool down.
- Provide fresh water and electrolyte-rich beverages, and encourage employees to drink a cup at 15- to 20-minute intervals.
- Arrange for workers to work in pairs and check each other for signs of heat illness, and stress the importance of prompt treatment.
- Make sure all employees are familiar with the emergency plan and that they call supervisors or 911 at the first signs of emergencies.
- Download the OSHA Heat Safety Tool on their cellphones to calculate the heat index.
Help is available
The workers' compensation insurance program of the state covers all Illinois workers. Thus, you need not avoid medical treatment for fear of the high costs. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can help you navigate the claims process to obtain benefits to cover medical expenses along with a portion of lost wages.