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Heat Illness in Massachusetts

Now that we’ve officially started summer, we can also expect climbing temperatures in Massachusetts. A little-discussed problem that some workers face is heat sickness. This is not that common a problem in Massachusetts—there were no fatalities from heat illness in 2012 here—but it is possible to suffer from heat illness in Boston and surrounding areas, particularly if you work outdoors.

If you work as a lifeguard, construction worker, gardener or in a variety of other outdoor jobs, you could be at risk during a heat wave. In 2011, OSHA started a campaign to prevent heat illness in outdoor workers. However, many people are exposed to heat in their jobs, even when they don’t work outdoors. For example, those who work in foundries, ceramic plants, rubber product factories, boiler rooms, bakeries, commercial kitchens, mining sites and steam tunnels may all be at risk of suffering a heat-related health problem.

There are many kinds of heat illnesses, ranging from minor heat cramps to fatal heat stroke. Most of these illnesses can be prevented altogether or stopped from becoming a serious problem. When a worker is exposed to high temperatures, his or her body starts to increase blood circulation in order to keep the body cool. Sweat glands produce sweat to cool the skin’s surface. However, if the air is warmer than the core body temperature, it may be more difficult for the body to self-regulate. Similarly if the air is humid, a worker may start to sweat and lose fluids and electrolytes, letting the core temperature of the body rise too much.

Heat stroke is an especially dangerous heat illness. It happens because the body has exhausted its ability to self-regulate and sweating stops, often without warning. A worker’s body is around 105 degrees or higher at this crisis point and needs immediate treatment to avoid brain damage or death.

If you see another worker with hot, dry, red or spotted skin, whose temperature seems to be above 105 degrees, it is important to cool the worker down quickly. This could include spraying him or her with cold water or sponging him or her down with cool water. The person should also be moved to a shady area. Cooling efforts should continue until the person’s temperature drops to 101-102 degrees. The person should not drink alcohol and emergency medical personnel should be called.

Another heat illness is heat exhaustion, which can lead to heat stroke. It is when a worker sweats excessively, losing salt and electrolytes. It can lead to extreme weakness or fatigue, nausea or a headache. Other worrisome heat illnesses are heat cramps and heat rash.

In 2011 when the campaign was initiated, the OSHA Assistant Secretary has warned, “As we move into the summer months, it is very important for workers and employers to take the steps necessary to stay safe in extreme heat…Drinking water often, taking breaks and limiting time in the heat are simple, effective ways to prevent heat illness.”

If you suffer a serious heat illness or other work-related injury while performing your job tasks, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for time lost from your job or any medical bills. A workers’ compensation attorney can give you a better sense of what your claims are and the benefits for which you are eligible. He can also negotiate with an insurer and file a claim on your behalf. Call the experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates for a free consultation at 617-367-0880 or contact us via our online form.

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