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As temperatures rise, Maryland officials consider worker protections

A recent study out of UCLA found that high temperatures significantly increase the risk of workplace injuries. The researchers note that high temperatures can contribute to obvious heat-related injuries like heat stress and heat stroke as well as incidental injuries, like falling off a ladder or getting caught in a piece of machinery. This is because the heat can cause confusion and dizziness that can result in other, related accidents.

The data from the research is striking. According to the researchers’ findings, the risk of an injury increase by almost 10% for those working in 90 degree days compared to those working on 60 degree days and by almost 15% when the temperature tops 100.

The trend is concerning, particularly when we consider the fact that we have more high-temperature days every year.

To help keep our workers safe, the Commission of Labor and Industry recently encouraged the Maryland Department of Labor to adopt changes to the agency’s minimum requirements for employers when dealing with heat stress. The move is in response to the passage of a bill that required the Commissioner of Labor and Industry to put together regulations to address this growing issue.

What is the proposal?

The proposal applies to workers when working in temperatures over 88 degrees Fahrenheit in situations when external factors can increase the risk of a heat related illness. External factors for the purposes of the proposal can include radiant and conductive heat sources as well as required uniforms or protective clothing.

There are some exemptions. The proposal would not apply in situations when workers are in these temperatures for less than 15 minutes over a 60-minute period or during emergency situations.

Critics of the proposal include the American Industrial Hygiene Association and the Maryland Heat Illness Prevention Coalition along with over 100 additional organizations. These critics argue that the proposal does not go far enough and that the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) agency would have difficulty enforcing the standard. For example, these groups point out that 88 degrees Fahrenheit is too high, and the heat hazard should be set at 80 degrees Fahrenheit as is the standard in other states like California and Oregon.

What if I suffer a heat related injury while on-the-job?

Although passage of additional worker protections would go a long way towards reducing the risk of worker injury and illness, it is important for those who are injured or become ill while on-the-job to know that they have options. Workers who suffer injury or illness from excessive heat or other factors during the course of employment likely qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits can provide needed funds to cover medical expenses and missed wages due to the inability to work while healing.

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