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Workers beware: Humidity is a significant factor in heatstroke

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Humidity always makes the summer heat in New York feel even more oppressive. But for workers who have to do their jobs in hot weather, humidity can also increase their risk of getting heatstroke—an illness that can be very serious and leave workers unable to do their jobs.

Construction workers, firefighters, utility and maintenance staff, landscapers, and anyone who works outdoors are at risk in hot weather. Drinking plenty of water, taking regular breaks, and staying in the shade can help as the body goes through the process of cooling itself down, but humidity can make that process much more difficult.

The skin dissipates as much as 90% of body heat through sweat in hot weather. This helps the body stay at a core temperature of about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Sweat comes out through the pores and onto the skin and is then evaporated into the air.

But when it is humid, the air is already filled with water and there is nowhere for the sweat to go.

Alexis Halpern, an emergency-medicine physician at NY Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medicine, said evaporation off the skin becomes more difficult when there is greater than 75% humidity.

Measuring heat and humidity

As a result, it is much more difficult for the body to cool itself and it can overheat. This can lead to heatstroke. Body temperature rises. People can experience a rapid pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, and confusion. They may even pass out. Left untreated, heatstroke can lead to brain damage and injury to other organs, such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver.

Ways of measuring heat and humidity include air temperature and the heat index, which is an approximation of how the combination of heat and humidity will feel. Another measure is wet-bulb temperature, which considers the evaporation rate. A water-soaked cloth is wrapped around the bulb of a thermometer, then air is passed over it until the water evaporates.

The higher the wet-bulb temperature, the more difficult evaporation of sweat will be. Research conducted by Colin Raymond, a postdoctoral researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, found that the body loses its ability to cool itself when the wet-bulb temperature is greater than 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Raymond also studied weather data going back decades and found the number of days with wet-bulb temperatures exceeding 86 degrees Fahrenheit has increased – from 300 per year to 1,100 per year.

Outdoor workers are at the most risk for heatstroke

It is the responsibility of employers to take steps to ensure the safety of their workers. When they fail to meet this responsibility, workers can suffer heatstroke or another injury or illness. Workers’ compensation benefits are supposed to help these workers by paying medical expenses and paying partial wages while they are unable to return to the job.

The reality is much more complicated. Claims for benefits are denied. Employers and insurance companies question injuries. Workers are pressured to return to the workplace even though they have not fully recovered from their illness or injury.

The experienced attorneys at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP guide workers through every step of the process. We build strong cases for benefits and fight for workers at all hearings and appeals before the New York State Workers Compensation Board.

If you’ve experienced heatstroke or any other injury or illness on the job in New York, contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation at one of our offices.

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