This summer, Phoenix temperatures are expected to soar past 100ºF on a daily basis, with the possibility of creeping past 120ºF. For outdoor workers like construction site employees, extreme heat conditions are a very serious, deadly threat on the job. Every year in Arizona, the summer heat kills more than 120 people, and thousands of people experience heat-related ailments like dehydration.
The United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable. OSHA mandates that workplaces are kept safe for employees. Otherwise, an employer’s negligence may warrant further action beyond any workers’ compensation that is offered due to an injury on the job.
Here’s what to know about heat exhaustion risks in Arizona, how to stay safe on the job, and when you should hire a Phoenix construction accident lawyer because of a heat-related injury.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is not able to properly cool itself through sweating. When temperatures are extremely hot, a person’s body temperature may rise more quickly than it can cool itself down. Factors like dehydration, alcohol use and poor circulation may exacerbate heat exhaustion risk.
When heat exhaustion occurs, some of the warning signs someone is experiencing it include:
- Increased heart rate
- Loss of concentration
- Irritability or sickness
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of desire to drink fluids
As a result of heat exhaustion, a person may experience brain and organ damage, or, in the worst case, death.
Heat Exhaustion Risk Factors for Construction Workers
According to OSHA, there are several worksite factors that may increase a person’s risk of heat exhaustion, many of which are commonly found on construction sites. These include:
- High temperature and humidity
- Excessive heat sources
- Having to touch hot objects
- Direct sun exposure without shade
- Restricted air movement
- Physical exertion in heat
- Use of bulky or non-breathable protective clothing and equipment
Workers in temperatures above 103ºF are at a high to extreme risk for heat exhaustion. In these temperatures, aggressive protective measures must be in place to protect workers. In any temperature, basic heat safety and planning, as well as precautions and heightened awareness of risk, should be implemented on construction sites.
Like any occupational hazard a worker may encounter, training and education are crucial to protect workers. Workers should be educated about the warning signs of heat exhaustion and be vigilant of these signs whenever they are working in the heat, so that they know what to watch out for in themselves and in others.
Other ways construction companies can protect workers from heat exhaustion include:
- Create a cool environment. Construction companies can use engineering controls like air conditioning and ventilation to make the work environment cooler. Cranes, construction equipment cabs and break rooms can all be air conditioned.
- Increase ventilation. Cooling fans and local exhaust ventilation should be used at points of high heat production and moisture.
- Schedule regular rest breaks. Construction supervisors should implement frequent rest cycles for workers to get out of the heat.
- Save strenuous work for lower temperatures. Work that requires more intense physical exertion should be saved for times when extreme heat is not at a peak.
- Provide water. Drinking water should always be available and permitted to drink at any time.
- Have an emergency kit. Heat stress kits help reduce body temperature through items like ice packs, water packs, cold compresses and other drinking fluids. A construction company should have an emergency plan in place with procedures to follow for heat-related illnesses.
Workers who are new to working in heat should be acclimated gradually, with more frequent breaks and less steady work in heat until they have acclimated.
What to Do If You Suffer from Heat Exhaustion on the Job
Any heat exhaustion that occurs while working will likely make the employee eligible for workers’ compensation. Some actions, such as fainting, may be attributed to other medical issues. When you’re working in the hot Arizona summer sun on a construction site, though, it’s likely the heat can cause harm.
If you recognize you are experiencing heat exhaustion, get help immediately from a supervisor. What seems like a mild case can quickly turn into unresponsiveness and even death. It’s better to err on the side of safety and have emergency services come to the construction site if you feel you need them.
As mentioned, heat exhaustion can cause permanent physical damage, including damage to the brain and other vital organs. Any type of heat-related injury may cause you to miss time off work, and in some cases, may prevent you from working again.
If you have been in a construction accident due to heat exhaustion, your employer may be to blame. Some signs to watch out for include:
- There was no access to water on the construction site.
- You expressed the need to rest but were not granted a break.
- You received no training about heat exhaustion but had to work in heat.
- When you experienced heat exhaustion, there was no emergency plan in place to get you the care you needed in time.
If you have experienced heat exhaustion on the job in Arizona, you may be entitled to compensation beyond what is offered in a workers’ compensation settlement. Contact the Phoenix construction accident attorney team at the Millea Law Firm for a free consultation online or at (480) 462-5540. You deserve to be protected, and we can help.