For some workers, a hot day can be more than just uncomfortable – it can be deadly.
But New York City workplace injury attorney Edgar Romano of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP says no one should die on the job from heat exposure. And employers can take measures to prevent such tragedies from happening.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 34 workers died from exposure to environmental heat in 2013.
While the summer may be winding down, heat waves in late August are certainly not unusual. Romano said workers should understand their rights when it’s hot.
“No death in the workplace because of heat exposure is acceptable,” Romano said. “In addition to the dozens of fatalities each year, thousands of workers every year suffer non-fatal injuries such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. These are injuries that can cause long-term complications. These also are preventable injuries.
“Employers have a duty to protect their employees from heat-related hazards,” Romano added. “The Occupational Safety & Health Administration does not have a specific heat-related standard, but employers must provide their workers with an environment that ‘is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.’ High temperatures in a place of employment can be a hazard that is covered by the OSHA standard.”
As a workers’ compensation attorney, Romano has represented employees who work in hot environments, including those who work outdoors. Employees who are most at risk for suffering heat-related illness include construction workers, firefighters, bakery workers, farmers, miners, boiler room workers, factory workers and others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Romano explained that while heat can cause heat stroke, high temperatures at work can be a factor in other on-the-job injuries.
“An accident can happen because someone has sweaty palms or fogged up safety goggles,” Romano said. “A hot work environment may cause workers to lose their concentration and focus, which can increase the risk of an accident. A roofer who becomes dizzy from the heat may lose his or her balance and fall.”
Romano said employers should monitor work environments and make accommodations for employees. They should encourage workers to wear light-colored and light-weight clothing, hats and sunscreen.
“Employers may need to allow for more frequent breaks and ensure the workers have plenty of water,” Romano said. “They also should ensure that workers, particularly those who are new to the job or coming back after time off, are allowed to become gradually acclimated to a hot environment. If possible, more strenuous jobs should be scheduled during cooler times of the day, such as morning.”
According to OSHA, symptoms of heat-related illnesses include confusion, dizziness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, and headaches.
Employers should take action immediately if a worker shows signs of dehydration, heat stroke, heat exhaustion or other adverse side effects of heat, Romano said.