Heatstroke and Hypothermia Risks for Exposed Construction Workers

Sometimes the weather is hotter (or colder) than the weatherman’s numbers suggest.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses a public heat index system to warn employers and employees about heat-related complications in various weather and work conditions. This data, coupled with weather outlooks and advisories, gives employers access to the information necessary to protect their employees from weather risks. However, since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fails to mandate standards for working in extreme weather, many employers see weather safety as a grey area. As a result, many employees are pushed beyond a reasonable level of comfort in the name of profit.

Rising Temperature Risks

Hot weather, humidity, physical exertion, and dehydration can all cause heat-induced illnesses. Construction workers are especially at risk as a result of overexertion caused by heavy labor, along with direct exposure to insufferable Texas heat and humidity. The three heat-related conditions construction workers must combat are:

  • Heat cramps. Heat cramps occur as your body attempts to regulate your internal temperature. When you become overheated, your body will sweat in an effort to maintain a core temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (F). However, when the external temperature is well over 100 degrees F, which is common during Texas’ summers, your body’s excessive sweating can lead to dehydration and muscle cramps.
  • Heat exhaustion. Even though it isn’t as serious as heatstroke, heat exhaustion is also extremely dangerous. Heat exhaustion occurs when your body can no longer control your core temperature to a normal 98.6 degrees F. Ss your core temperature rises, you’ll begin to feel fever-like symptoms as your body struggles to cool itself down. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headaches, severe cramping in the abdomen, dizziness, thirst, nausea, diarrhea (which makes dehydration worse), giddiness, fatigue, and lightheadedness.
  • Heatstroke. Heatstroke is the most serious of all heat-related illnesses. It occurs when the body’s temperature reaches 104 degrees F or higher. Symptoms include confusion, irrational behavior, loss of consciousness, confusion, convulsions, and hot, dry skin. This condition can cause trauma to the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles as cells begin to die when their blood supply reaches 103 degrees F. In extreme cases, heatstroke can be fatal. Therefore, it’s vital that emergency medical treatment is pursued when an employee appears to have suffered from this condition.

Employers are recommended by OSHA to monitor their employees for signs of heat-related illness and exhaustion. Employers should also provide employees with the following safety tools.

  • Access to cool water. Employees need to avoid dehydration, and the cold water can help regulate high internal body temperatures.
  • Regularly scheduled break times (especially during the hotter parts of the day). Employees need to avoid over-exertion.
  • Decreased workloads during heatwaves. Employees need to avoid raising their body temperatures with hard work and heavy lifting during the peak temperatures of the day.
  • Medical and observational training. Employees need to avoid illness by recognizing heat-related threats as well as be able to treat the symptoms before they become life-threatening.

Falling Temperature Risks

Texas summers aren’t the only concern for construction and outdoor labor forces. Although winters in our state rarely reach below freezing temperatures, hypothermia is still a great risk for outdoor workers.

Hypothermia occurs when heat escapes your body faster than your body can regulate it. The body strives to maintain a regular temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (give or take a few tenths of a degree). However, as heat escapes the body, the normal temperature falls. When the core body temperature falls below 95 degrees, the heart, brain, and nervous system become compromised and fail to function properly. Depending on the severity of the condition, hypothermia can be lethal. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, nausea, confusion, fatigue, slow pulse, fainting, and bright red and cold skin.

Employers are recommended by OSHA to monitor their employees for signs of hypothermia, while also providing employees with the following safety tools.

  • Access to room temperature or warmer fluids (65 to 80 degrees). Employees need to avoid dehydration while they regulate rapidly cooling internal body temperatures.
  • Regularly scheduled break times (especially during the colder parts of the day). Employees need to avoid over-exertion and limit their exposure to “freezing” temperatures. Although the thermostat may read above 30 degrees Fahrenheit, wind chill and prolonged exposure can mimic freezing temperatures.
  • Medical and observational training. Employees need to avoid hypothermia by recognizing its symptoms as well as be able to treat the signs before they become life-threatening.

For more information on weather-related injuries and how your employer may be held accountable, contact our office today.

Steve Lee has over 35 years’ worth of experience helping workers uphold their employee rights. Isn’t it time for him to help you? We’re waiting to schedule your FREE consultation and case review. What are you waiting for? Call 713-921-4171 now, and see how Steve Lee can help provide you with the comfort you deserve during your hour of need.

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