Maryland summer heat and humidity can mean big trouble for workers

With summer now here, it is important that workers are protected from heat-related conditions and illnesses.

Summer is upon us once again, and it is the time of year when employers and workers alike must remain aware of the huge impact that heat, humidity and glaring sun can have on the body. Not taking proper precautions to protect workers from the impact of hot weather can result in serious injury, illness or even death, and there are many industries where workers are particularly susceptible to the effects of heat.

Being aware

A key step in preparing for the onslaught of summer's humid conditions, high temperatures and intensified sun exposure is understanding your risk for heat-related workplace illnesses and conditions. If you work in an office building and have a sedentary position, your risk is obviously very low. On the other hand, if you are part of a road construction or landscaping crew and you spend the bulk of your workdays outside, you are much more susceptible. Other industries and positions where workers are particularly vulnerable to the heat and humidity include:

  • Commercial and industrial kitchen workers (including bakers, chefs/cooks, etc.)
  • Factory workers
  • Warehouse employees
  • Roofers
  • Residential and commercial builders/laborers
  • Heating and air conditioning/HVAC installation and maintenance professionals
  • Asphalt crews, both private and municipal
  • Farm workers
  • Gardeners
  • Concrete and brick masons
  • Fence installers
  • Welders
  • Telephone/wireless/cable/satellite/telecommunications professionals

Understanding the risks

It is important for all workers at risk of heat-related illnesses to understand both the types of conditions to be on the lookout for and the signs/symptoms that could indicate trouble. As we all know, when working in hot weather, particularly in the sun, it is vital to:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking adequate fluids (clear liquids, limited caffeine, no alcohol; think water or sports drinks with added electrolytes)
  • Limit sun exposure as much as possible (wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing, preferably with long sleeves, staying in the shade whenever possible and using sunscreen)
  • Take frequent rest breaks in the shade

That being said, the most important thing to keep an eye on is sweating: as long as you are actively sweating, your body is attempting to cool itself. If you get dehydrated, however, or you are in very humid conditions, your body may be unable to adequately sweat enough to regulate your temperature. That is when heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke can set in. Once your body overheats to the point where you can no longer sweat, you will likely need medical attention. The sooner you can "catch" the condition, however, the more likely it is to rehydrate and cool your system without inflicting further damage. Taking a break in the shade, fanning the body (or going into the air conditioning), dampening clothes to cool the skin, soaking the hands or feet in cool water, slowly sipping cold fluids and avoiding sun exposure for as long as possible will all help.

Heat-related conditions are no laughing matter. Unless your body can stay cool enough to regulate itself, you are risking serious health issues like organ failure, brain damage, heart attack or even death. If you have developed a heat-related illness or condition on the job, you may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits until you recover. To learn more about Maryland work comp, speak with an experienced attorney at one of the six convenient locations of the law offices of Cohen, Snyder, Eisenberg & Katzenberg, P.A. You can call the firm at 443-529-0795 or send them an email to schedule a free initial consultation.

Keywords: workers compensation, work comp, heat illness, heat injury, heat stroke, exposure, overheating, heat-related illness