Heat-related illness and death in the workplace

| May 7, 2015 | Firm News, Workers' Compensation

When summer approaches and temperatures rise, employees in eastern Tennessee who work outdoors may be concerned about the dangers of excessive heat exposure. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more than 30 workers across the nation succumbed to heat-related illnesses in 2012, and thousands more became ill. Because the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires that workplaces be kept free of hazards known to cause serious injury or death, employers must protect their employees from serious heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke.

Direct sunlight, humidity and high temperatures coupled with continuous or intense physical exertion are recognized risk factors that could result in illness or incapacitation. However, lack of acclimatization of employees to hot workplace conditions is among the leading causes of on-the-job heat-related illness and death, according to OSHA. Reports indicate that lack of a heat illness prevention program in place to protect employees from the effects of excessive heat is a contributing factor.

Work-rest cycles, shaded rest areas and water management are components of effective prevention programs. OSHA says that providing workers with permeable, light-colored clothing, training workers and supervisors to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illness and implementing an emergency action plan are among additional actions that employers can take to protect their employees.

Safe work practices can also help employers avoid an OSHA General Duty Clause citation and any associated penalties. To this end, OSHA provides resources for employers on their website.

Although willful citations with proposed penalties of as much as $70,000 may motivate employers to implement heat-related illness prevention measures, employees who have become ill at work due to excessive heat exposure may be entitled to compensation. Because filing a claim could be complicated, Tennessee workers may find it beneficial to seek help from a workers’ compensation attorney for help in handling the process.

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