As June came to a close with still more rain, fog, and cool breezes, it was not surprising that many Seattlites suspected summer would never arrive and the Seattle Times formally admonished Mother Nature for her insolence. However, July 4th weekend arrived in clear, blue, sunny splendor. And just like that, the dangers encountered by those who play and work outside shifted from the late snow pack and swollen rivers to a sun that can be unforgiving even in our Northern Cascade climate.
In fact, while workers and employers in the sunny eastern plains of Washington are more than familiar with the dangers posed by working in hot weather, the seeming rarity of sunny days in the west can lead to a potentially dangerous disregard for warmer weather and the threat it sometimes poses: heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries commissioned a report on Occupational Heat Illness examining accepted state fund workers’ compensation claims over the last decade. They found that over 97% of claims occurred between May and September, and that the industry sectors accounting for most of the claims were in construction and public administration. Most interestingly, the study found that the workers most at risk for suffering from a heat related malady were those workers who were not properly acclimatized for physical work in a hot environment.
Some common signs that a worker is suffering from heat exhaustion include:
Co-workers might note that the possible victim exhibits clammy or moist skin and a pale skin tone, although they may be perceived to only have a slightly elevated body temperature. Once these symptoms emerge, they could progress to heat stroke, and even death.
Construction workers are especially prone to this condition, due to the nature of their work: heavy exertion in extremely exposed conditions. If you are working with someone who begins to exhibit these symptoms, there are ways you can jump in to help immediately:
- move the victim to a shaded area and keep watch over them
- remove heavy clothing
- provide cool water
- cool the victim by physically fanning them and wet their skin with cool water
- if they are not feeling better in just a few minutes, call 911 for help
Employers can require workers to labor in sometimes hostile conditions, but they cannot require that the employees continue to labor if they are experiencing discomfort, especially if that discomfort is linked to hot weather. In this case, personal discomfort is a human body’s way of signaling that it cannot cope with the heat. It is important that such signals are not ignored, and that a worker is allowed to seek remedies like those listed above without fear of retaliation.
If a worker experiences symptoms of heat exhaustion that do not improve, it is essential they seek medical care. If the heat exhaustion leads to a more serious condition or if a worker feels their employer is not responsive to attempts to avoid heat exhaustion or stroke, they should contact an expert Washington Workers Compensation Lawyer for advice. No worker should feel intimidated into working in high heat conditions or fear retaliation if they must cease work due to hot conditions. The expert Seattle Workers Compensation Attorneys at Emery Reddy are standing by to advise you if you need an advocate in these hot summer months ahead.