Does heat stress injuries on the job qualify for workers’ compensation benefits?
Working outside has a few perks such as being able to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. While you might prefer being outdoors rather than in an office, there are some things to watch out for regarding your health. Frostbite, hypothermia and heat-related illnesses are all possible for people who work outside, whether you work outside full-time or briefly step out for a conference call.
Georgia tends to have fairly mild winter weather, yet the summer can reach scorching temperatures which can become unsafe. If your body temperature gets too high, you can begin to suffer from several serious health conditions.
Employers in Georgia are responsible for keeping their employees safe from weather-related injuries. Understanding the types of injuries you face, along with your rights regarding workers’ compensation, helps you protect yourself while working.
Who is at risk for weather-related injuries?
Anyone who works outside is potentially at risk for weather-related injuries. People who engage in heavy physical exertion are at a higher risk due to the extreme stress that they already put their bodies under. Construction workers, roofers and landscaping professionals are just a few of the many types of employees that need to watch out for the heat in Georgia.
People who work indoors can also become overwhelmed by heat in certain conditions. For example, auto repair technicians might work in shops that have their doors open for most of the day. If there aren’t fans or a working air conditioning system, then those employees could still become overwhelmed by the heat.
What are the common types of heat-related injuries?
Heat-related ailments range from mild to severe. Noticing that you are experiencing mild symptoms of heat stress is a sign that you need to take immediate action. Many of the milder conditions can rapidly progress to an illness that requires hospitalization.
- Heat rash is one of the milder injuries that you could face. You might hear this referred to as “prickly heat,” and it appears as a fine red rash on your body. In most cases, heat rash should go away once you cool off and give your skin time to heal, but it can become serious for people with certain health conditions. People with diabetes could develop skin infections if the heat rash gets out of control.
- Heat exhaustion causes you to feel sick enough that you might not be able to keep working. Dizziness, weakness and fatigue are common symptoms. You might also feel an extreme sense of thirst, which is your body trying to compensate for dehydration. Headaches and nausea are also signs that you are pushing your body too far. For heat exhaustion, workers’ compensation can help you get coverage for taking time off work to recover.
- Heat cramps are sometimes mistaken for normal muscle pain when they happen during work activities. However, you might notice that these cramps continue after your workday is through. The cramps are caused by you losing too much salt and water through heavy sweating. If you notice that they don’t go away or happen every day, then you should talk to your employer about how to stay cool in the workplace.
- Heatstroke is the most serious heat-related injury that you could face. At this point, your body can no longer keep your core temperature at a low enough level for it to function properly. You might notice that you or a coworker stops sweating and seems confused. Seizures and a loss of consciousness are signs that this illness has reached emergency levels. If you suspect that you or someone else is having a heat stroke, seek emergency care immediately. When it comes to heatstroke, workers’ compensation can help you manage the costs of your hospital care.
You can take steps to protect yourself from heat injury by avoiding sugary or alcoholic beverages that increase the risk of dehydration. In extreme heat, you should also take regular breaks that allow your body to cool off and drink plenty of water.
What are your employer’s responsibilities?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) makes it clear that employers are responsible for helping employees to prevent heatstroke. In Georgia, your employer is required to take reasonable actions to help you stay healthy at work.
For example, they should give you access to water and time to drink enough to prevent heat injuries throughout the day. They may also need to allow for new employees to adjust to working outdoors or give more frequent breaks when the weather reaches high temperatures.
Does workers’ comp cover heat-related injuries?
Employers have a responsibility to prevent heat stress in the workplace. It’s important to note that employers sometimes try to place the blame on employees by saying that they had a pre-existing condition or failed to take the safety and rest options that were provided. This is why you may need an attorney to help you wade through the process of getting your health and financial needs covered.
Your body temperature only needs to rise by 2 degrees for you to start feeling the effects of heat stress. While drinking water and taking breaks can help reduce the risk, you might still face a heat-related injury at work. If you do, then know that you do have options available to help you cover the cost of your medical care and lost wages. Working with our experienced Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys helps you make sure that your right to a safe working environment is upheld.