Beat the heat: How to stay safe when you work outdoors

Working in hot weather can be riskier than you realize

For most people in Illinois, summer is a time to look forward to. But, for farm workers, construction workers and anyone else whose job requires them to work outside, the hot and humid weather can actually pose a huge risk. Without proper safety precautions, heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses and injuries can take a serious toll on workers' health.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, every year dozens of workers die while working in the hot outdoors. Thousands more become ill or injured. While this is tragic, the good news is that there are many preventative strategies workers and employers can take to minimize the risk of on-the-job harm.

If you're going to be working outside this summer, consider the following:

  • Dress appropriately: At the very least, wear light-colored clothing and a hat. Folks who are going to be outside for a long time might want to consider investing in ventilated clothing, or clothing made from moisture-wicking or UV-blocking fabric.
  • Stay hydrated: The best way to stay hydrated is to drink water before you start to feel thirsty. OSHA recommends taking a water break every 15 minutes. It's best to avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee or pop, since they can actually be dehydrating.
  • Take plenty of breaks: Everybody who works outside should take periodic breaks in an air-conditioned or shady place to rest and recover. Taking regular breaks to cool down will actually allow employees to work more in the long run.
  • Start slowly: The body needs time to acclimatize to the heat. New workers and those returning from a week or more off should start with some lighter-duty tasks until they get used to the heat. When the weather is particularly hot, everyone should take things a little easier and take more water and rest breaks than normal.

Watching for the signs of heat-related distress

The best way to prevent heat-related deaths, injuries and illnesses is to catch the signs early. A person may be suffering from heat exhaustion if they exhibit symptoms including: headache, dizziness, profuse sweating, elevated heart rate, nausea, cramps and general weakness. If you or a coworker starts experiencing these symptoms, the best course of action is to get out of the sun and rest until all symptoms subside. Even if the heat exhaustion itself doesn't progress further, the symptoms can cause workers to lose focus and make mistakes that could lead to serious accidents.

Left unchecked, heat exhaustion can progress into potentially-fatal heat stroke. Signs of heat stroke include skin that is dry and hot to the touch, elevated body temperature, fainting, confusion and convulsions. Heat stroke is an emergency situation and 911 should be called if anyone on your jobsite starts exhibiting these symptoms.

Getting help from a lawyer

If you've suffered a heat-related on-the-job illness or injury, you're likely eligible for workers' compensation benefits. Additionally, if a person dies from work-related heat stroke, his or her family members may be eligible for survivors' benefits.

It is important for workers' compensation claimants to understand that they have a right seek help from an attorney. If the employer or insurer ever acts unfairly, your first call should be to a lawyer who will stand up for your rights. Most workers' compensation attorneys work on a contingency-fee basis, meaning that you will not have to pay attorneys' fees unless and until compensation is recovered on your behalf.

Injured workers in Central Illinois can contact the lawyers at Kanoski Bresney for a free initial consultation.