The “Palmetto State” is in the midst of another sultry summer, complete with consistently hot temperatures, oppressively high humidity and a blinding sun that makes it feel even warmer. For many, summer is the best time of the year, signaling vacation, a break from the rigors of school, trips to the beach and enjoying days in a cocoon of air conditioned bliss. For outdoor workers and those who work in heat-filled enclosed spaces, though, summer means something else entirely: an increased risk of heat-related illnesses that might necessitate an application for workers’ compensation benefits.
What is a heat-related illness?
According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), there are three categories of heat-related illnesses:
Heat cramps – painful muscle spasms, usually felt in the abdomen and legs.
Heat exhaustion – caused by the excessive loss of salt associated with profuse sweating, resulting in cold, clammy skin, headache, nausea and dizziness.
Heat stroke – caused by the body’s inability to regulate its temperature; symptoms include red, dry skin, lack of sweating, rapid but weak pulse, confusion, and rapid but shallow breathing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are hundreds of heat-related deaths across the country every year, with some people being particularly susceptible to the effects of heat and humidity. Vulnerable groups include the elderly, young children, the obese, those with pre-existing medical conditions (particularly cardiac or pulmonary issues) and those who take certain medications that may increase the effects of sun and heat exposure (commonly seen with antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs).
So, how do South Carolina’s workers – particularly those in the high-risk construction, landscaping, utilities, law enforcement, delivery, factory, restaurant and dry cleaning industries – prevent heat-related illnesses? The most important thing that any worker in the heat can do is to drink lots of water, at least two cups an hour of cool water or an electrolyte-replacing beverage like Gatorade.
It is also crucial that workers:
Take breaks out of the direct sunlight (limiting as much sun exposure as possible the rest of the time)
Wear loose-fitting clothes
Wear lighter colors that will reflect as much of the sun’s rays as possible
Take occasional breaks from the heat by going into an air conditioned building or vehicle
Stay away from beverages containing alcohol or caffeine, since these actually dehydrate the body
Workers across the country can also take advantage of a relatively new technology developed by the federal Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The “Heat Safety Tool” is an Android and iPhone app that allows employees (or employers) to track local temperatures and heat indexes, as well as giving important heat safety measures that should be employed in those conditions.
For example, if the temperature is 80, with 80 percent humidity, then the heat index will be higher than if the humidity level was 25 percent. A higher heat index means that there is a higher risk of heat-related illnesses, and that it is vitally important to follow heat safety guidelines about drinking adequate water, taking frequent breaks and avoiding too much sun exposure.
Are you a South Carolina worker who has suffered heat injuries while on the job? Do you want more information about possible workers’ compensation benefits you might be due to help you recover? To learn more about heat-related workplace illnesses and injuries, speak with an experienced work comp attorney in your area. Dial (864) 373-7333 for a free initial consultation.