Preventing heat stroke in outside workers

Employers in Illinois must provide a safe work environment by mitigating threats to employee safety and health, including heat illness. Heat-related illnesses are not a trivial danger; every year, 658 Americans die of heat-related causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Outdoor workers in industries such as construction, agriculture and forestry have an especially high risk of developing heat illnesses such as heat stroke. Heat stroke is a serious condition in which the body cannot cool itself and the body temperature rises rapidly. Heat stroke can result in disablement or death if victims do not receive treatment immediately.

Heat stroke plans

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to evaluate workplace heat hazards and create a plan for reducing the risk of injuries. According to OSHA and the CDC, employers should take the following steps to prevent heat illness:

  • Train employees and supervisors about prevention, recognition and treatment.
  • Give employees time to acclimate to the stress of the work environment.
  • Provide cool water, which employees should drink every 15 minutes.
  • Mandate frequent employee rest breaks in areas that are shaded or air-conditioned.
  • Periodically check employees for early heat illness symptoms such as sweating, confusion, dizziness and nausea.
  • Ensure that medical care is always immediately available.

When heat illnesses occur, workers may also be in danger of other traumatic injuries, since heat illnesses can cause dizziness or faintness, increasing their risk of experiencing a work accident. Hot or strenuous work conditions may further endanger employees operating heavy equipment, causing fogging in safety glasses or sweaty palms, according to the CDC. Employees can lower their risk by making sure they stay hydrated and notifying a supervisor if they start experiencing heat illness symptoms.

Claiming an injury 

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act allows workers to seek workers’ compensation benefits for injuries occurring in the line of work, including those resulting from heat illness. Under Illinois law, employers can be held criminally liable when employees contract heat-related illnesses. In 1989, one Illinois employer was prosecuted for exposing employees to heat hazards. The state Supreme Court held that the employer could be charged with reckless conduct and aggravated battery.

If a heat-related illness or injury occurs, workers must notify their employers as soon as possible; Illinois law requires that notice be given within 45 days of the incident. The statute of limitations for filing a claim is three years from the accident date or two years from the last date of payment from the employer. In the interval between the injury and filing a claim, employees must be careful to keep track of official documentation of the injury and its associated expenses so they can ensure they receive adequate compensation.

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