June is not only National Safety Month, but the start of the blistering
summer months in the American southwest. Summer in Albuquerque means soaring
temperatures, and for those who work outside every day, this means a lot
of added risk and numerous miserable days ahead. The added heat from the
summer months dramatically increases the risk of a heat-related injury
for workers, including heat exhaustion, cramps, or heatstroke. If you
suffer from one of these conditions while on the job, can your employer
be held liable? If so, can you file a claim and request
workers’ compensation benefits? Let’s take a closer look at these injuries and learn more
about what legal options you might have.
What Causes Heat Injuries?
Humans are warm-blooded, which means our bodies produce heat internally,
which must then be dissipated in order to keep working properly. While
you may not be aware of it, our bodies actually have to work hard to keep
these heat levels low and stable, which expends a fair amount of energy
(and explains why you feel so exhausted after a day in the sun). However,
when working hard and expending a lot of energy preforming a task, you
could find that your body can’t keep up with the workload needed
to stay cool, and you could suffer a heat-related illness or injury.
Heat-related conditions are particularly dangerous because once they begin,
they can rapidly increase in severity, and lead to serious, even permanent
damage or death in extreme cases. This means quick, decisive action is
necessary when you believe you or a co-worker is suffering from a heat-related
illness or injury.
Heat Injury Facts
According to a report produced by the National Safety Council, 244 people
in the United States died of exposure to excessive heat in the year 2014,
with many of those injuries coming as a result of outdoor working conditions
in the middle of summer. Let’s look at the three major heat-related
conditions in more detail.
Heat exhaustion: Sweat is your body’s natural way of keeping you
cool, however as you sweat your body loses two very important substances:
water and salt. If you lose too much of these substances, heat exhaustion
could set in, and people who work outdoors are particularly susceptible
to this condition. Heat exhaustion usually exhibits flu-like symptoms,
such as headaches, fatigue, severe thirst, nausea, and even vomiting or
diarrhea in severe instances. Victims will also sweat profusely, become
dizzy, and have pale or clammy skin. If you or a co-worker suffer from
this condition, it’s important that you act quickly: heat exhaustion
can evolve into heatstroke if not dealt with quickly, and we’ll
discuss in a moment why this is extremely dangerous.
Heat cramps: these are fairly common, but extremely painful. As you sweat,
your muscles lose water and salt, and as they do, they become prone to
cramping. These cramps can come in the form of sudden spasms in the legs,
arms, or abdomen, which could immediately debilitate even the most seasoned
worker. Someone who suffers from heat cramps should sit down or lie in
the shade for a while, be given plenty of cool water or a sports drink,
and stretch their cramping muscles. If these cramps continue for more
than an hour, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Heatstroke: This is the most severe condition, and occurs when the body
loses its ability to dissipate heat through sweat completely. When this
happens, vital internal organs begin to overheat and shut down. Body temperatures
rise to dangerous levels in a matter of mere minutes, which could cause
permanent damage to these organs, including the brain. Those suffering
from heat stroke will often exhibit similar symptoms to heat exhaustion,
including confusion, but they will also have extremely hot skin, and could
possibly also have a seizure.
If you or a co-worker suffers from heat stroke, you must act quickly. Move
the person to a half-sitting position in the shade and quickly and either
spray them with water and fan them vigorously, or apply ice packs to the
back of the neck and under the armpits. Once you have called for emergency
medical assistance, do not give the victim anything to drink, as it could
exacerbate the condition.
Can You Claim Workers’ Compensation for a Heat Injury?
If you suffer a heat-related injury while on the job, you may be eligible
for compensation. If you work out in the heat, your employer should provide
you with regular and frequent breaks in which you can get out of the sun
and consume water to stay hydrated. They should also provide you with
at least some form of shade and sun protection equipment for when you
are working if possible. This is particularly important in extremely hot
climates like we have here in Albuquerque.
If you or a loved one suffers from a heat-related injury at work and are
forced to seek medical treatment or miss time in order to recover, you
may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim and collect benefits
that can help you recover and get back to work quickly. As we’ve
seen, some heat illnesses can have life-altering consequences, and workers’
compensation could help you maintain your ability to live comfortably
and continue to care for your loved ones.
Have you suffered a heat-related injury at work?
Call Michael J. Doyle, Attorney at Law today by dialing 505-219-2176 to arrange for a free case evaluation and
learn more about your options for filing a workers’ compensation claim!