How Overwork and Heat Can Cause Construction Workers a Variety of Medical Concerns
Summer in Texas means hot weather, and that means increased danger to people who work outdoors. Heat stress (the new, broader term replacing “heatstroke”) can disable a worker, cause him to fall or suffer another injury, or even kill. Meanwhile, overexertion can have the same detrimental effects to workers even when the weather is cool. As a result, you need to know your risks in order to prevent serious injuries associated with heat stress and overexertion. Otherwise, you may find yourself lying in a hospital bed with an IV in your arm, wondering how you’re going to make it back to work.
Heat Stress, Overexertion Risks, and Treatment
Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more suffer severe reactions to overworking and working in extreme temperatures. More than 40 percent of these heat-related deaths are associated with construction work. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), within the past decade, an average of 36 deaths and 2,810 heat-related illnesses are reported each year. If these statistics aren’t harrowing enough, OSHA believes that thousands of heat-related illnesses and deaths go unreported due to the similarities between overexertion and heat stress symptoms to the effects of a heart attack. Furthermore, autopsies aren’t usually performed on the victims and many heat-related deaths are therefore officially reported as cardiac arrests rather than as complications due to the following effects of overexertion and heat stress:
An overexertion injury happens when a worker or his muscles become too fatigued to work properly. When muscles are overworked, muscular capacity is reduced and puts a worker at risk for sprains, uncontrollable shaking, inability to lift or steady himself, inflammation of the muscles, as well as dizziness and blurred vision.
Treatment for overexertion involves:
- Rest. Allow the injured area (or the whole person) to rest for a significant period. This period may require the use of work restrictions or time off.
- Hydration. The injured person’s muscles require fluid to prevent lactic acidosis—the build up of lactase in the body, which causes the muscles to seize.
- Medication. Anti-inflammatory medicine such as Motrin can help with swelling and pain.
- Ice. In addition to rest, ice packs can be used to help alleviate pain, swelling, and tension.
- Surgery. In some severe cases, surgery may be required to release tension in the overexerted muscles.
Exposure to extreme heat can result in occupational illnesses and injuries. Heat stress can result in heat rash, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or rhabdomyolysis. Heat can also increase the risk of injuries in workers as it may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, and dizziness.
Treatments for heat-related illnesses typically may include:
- Calling 911 for emergency medical care.
- Staying with the worker until emergency medical services arrive.
- Removing the worker from the unsafe area and try to place him in a cool, shaded environment.
- Cooling the worker quickly with cold water; wet the skin, place cold wet cloths on skin, head, neck, armpits, and groin, or soak clothing with cool water.
- Removing unnecessary clothing, including shoes and socks.
- Circulating the air around the worker to speed cooling and promote air flow.
- Encouraging hydration with frequent sips of cool water.
Why These Risks Are Unusually High on Construction Sites
Construction workers are placed at a higher risk than others for heat stress and overexertion due to the nature of their jobs. Construction work is physically demanding and generally takes place outdoors. During the summer months in Texas, temperatures outside can easily reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Add in that construction workers must also wear heavy protective clothing such as jeans, long-sleeved shirts, gloves, and hard hats. As a result, a worker’s internal temperature can rapidly exceed 100 degrees; he may become dehydrated within minutes. If the worker is not treated immediately, he may need to be hospitalized; if the condition worsens, he may be at risk for fatal injuries. All of these consequences could have been avoided if his employer took the necessary precautions to keep him safe.
Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim for Heat-Related and Overexertion Injuries
Texas workers’ compensation may provide a means for a financial recovery after a heat stress episode. Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing safe workplaces, free of known safety hazards, including excessive temperatures. If an employer fails to monitor his employees for signs of heat stress or exhaustion, he may be liable for any injuries that result. This means that if you or a loved one succumbs to exhaustion or a heat-related illness while on the job, you may have a case for workers’ compensation.
Contact our office today for a FREE, no-obligation review of your claim. Attorney Steve Lee can help you understand your employee rights and guide you in your journey to pursue the compensation you require for your recovery. A few clicks are all you need to get the support and resources to have your medical expenses and lost wages reimbursed. Call or contact us today—we’re waiting to help you cool down your frustrations.