New Jersey Heat Wave
When summer arrives in New Jersey and the days begin to heat up, there’s plenty of things we can count on occurring each and every year.
People will be driving down the Garden State Parkway to enjoy time at the Jersey Shore.
Nature lovers will be heading to some of New Jersey’s best hiking trails, while others might be tubing down the Delaware River.
Concert goers will be heading to the Garden State Arts Center (while some of us will always refuse call it the PNC Bank Arts Center).
And, unfortunately, several New Jersey workers will be suffering from heat-related illness.
Occupational Heat Exposure – Deadly Risks
A heat wave brings about deadly risks. Every year, thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure, and some even die. In 2014 alone, nationwide 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job.
Excessive exposure to heat can cause a range of heat-related illnesses, from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. When the next heat wave hits New Jersey, it is critical to understand these dangers.
Types of Heat-Related Illness
The most deadly heat-related illness is heat stroke. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body's temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. This may occur with little warning to the worker and leave him/her unaware that a crisis stage has been reached. When heat stroke occurs, employee’s skin is hot, usually dry or can have profuse sweating. His/her body temperature will be around 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and the worker can be confused, have seizures or lose consciousness.. Unless the worker receives rapid and appropriate treatment, brain damage and/or death can occur.
Heat Exhaustion is not as dangerous as heat stroke, but can quickly progress to heat stroke if the worker is not attended to immediately. Heat exhaustion is the body's response to an excessive loss of the water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Symptoms may include headaches, nausea, heavy sweating, elevated body temperatures.
Heat cramps usually affect workers who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body's salt and moisture levels. Low salt levels in muscles causes painful cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.
Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. Heat rash often looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. It will usually appear on the worker's neck, upper chest, groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases.
Who is at Risk?
Outdoor workers include any workers who spend a substantial portion of their shift outdoors. Examples include construction workers, baggage handlers, oil and gas well operators, asbestos removal workers, electrical power transmission and control workers, landscaping and maintenance workers, plus many others that spend their days outside in the hot New Jersey summer.
New Jersey workers that are new to working outdoors are generally most at-risk for heat-related illnesses. It it critical for these workers to gradually increase their workloads and take breaks more frequently.
How Hot is Too Hot?
The best measurement tool for New Jersey workers and their employers to use in monitoring the heat level is the Heat Index. The heat index, often labeled as the "feels like" temp on weather websites, combines temperature and relative humidity into one number that reflects how hot it will actually feel.
The following from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a good basic guideline:
|Heat Index||Risk Level|
|Less than 91°F||Lower (Caution)|
|91°F to 103°F||Extreme Caution|
|103°F to 115°F||Danger|
|Greater than 115°||Extreme Danger|
IMPORTANT NOTE - The heat index values were devised for shady, light wind conditions. Exposure to full sunshine can increase heat index values by up to 15° Fahrenheit.
New Jersey Employers Must Protect Their Employees
Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat with precautions such as:
- Providing workers with water, rest and shade.
- Allowing new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize, or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
- Planning for emergencies and training workers on prevention.
- Monitoring workers for signs of illness.
Are your employers protecting you and your coworkers from heat-related illness? If not, you should contact the OSHA office nearest you.
Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury).
If you have any questions on any of these laws please contact your New Jersey Workers' Compensation lawyers at Mintz & Geftic today.
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