As Georgia temperatures climb, it’s time to think about how you’ll stay safe this summer at work. For many folks, the summer highs are an uncomfortable inconvenience, but not a major occupational health risk. Air-conditioned offices, healthcare facilities and stores all have their own workplace hazards, but temperatures inside tend to stay comfortable. Outside work, however, can quickly become dangerous, and certain indoor jobs, like factory work, cooking or dishwashing, can pose heat hazards at any time of year.
And while some employers are reacting to climbing summertime temperatures by better protecting their workers’ health, others aren’t doing enough. A recent report from Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, estimated that employer inaction on heat stress cost the U.S. economy $100 billion a year. OSHA is in the early stages of developing regulations regarding heat, but the rulemaking process usually takes years, according to NBC News.
Until there are enforceable standards regarding heat, workers are often left advocating for their own safety. If you experience heat illness on the job, do you qualify for workers’ compensation in Georgia? And what safety measures should you look for at an outdoor or high-heat job to avoid heat injuries in the first place?
Georgia workers’ compensation and heat injuries
If you work in a high-risk job, or even if you’re simply active outdoors in Georgia, it’s smart to understand and recognize the signs of heat illness. Heavy sweating, dizziness, nausea, weakness, confusion, cramps and darkened urine can all signify heat stress, and it’s important to quickly get to the shade, remove excess clothing and apply a cool cloth or water.
Some heat injuries, like heatstroke, can quickly cause death and require emergency treatment. But any heat injury should be followed up by medical attention, especially if symptoms don’t improve. And conditions like rhabdomyolysis, where muscles rupture, aren’t always identifiable by symptoms alone.
If you experience a heat injury on the job and you miss work, you’ll want to notify your manager, record the details of your working environment and document the medical attention you receive. Workers’ compensation covers heat injuries and can help pay for your medical care, follow-ups and time off work.
Unfortunately, farmworkers, though they’re among the most at-risk for heat stress, don’t have the same workers’ comp protections as other Georgia employees. While some farm employers choose to carry workers’ comp voluntarily, they are not required to do so. If you work in agriculture, it’s always a good idea to understand your workers’ compensation status before starting a new job. And if you are hurt or affected by heat stress, you’ll still want to contact a workers’ comp attorney in Atlanta to find out what your options are—even if you’re not sure if you’re covered.
How Georgia employers can protect workers from heat
Sometimes workplace accommodations require large, upfront costs for employers. That’s not the case with heat stress reduction. While there are engineering controls that can improve indoor working conditions, like adding heat shields or increasing the air velocity, most indoor and outdoor heat safety improvements come down to rest time, education and access to cool water.
Workers should always have access to cool water, and they should be free to take water breaks whenever they need to. Workers also need access to a cool rest area (either air conditioned or a shaded location) where they can drink water and lower their body temperature. Higher heat means more breaks.
Employers should create a heat safety program and train workers on how to spot the signs of heat illness. While professional medical attention is important, coworkers often take the first, life-saving steps of moving an affected worker to the shade and getting help. Some workplaces even create a buddy system, so that high-risk employees can monitor each other for signs of heat strain.
New employees need time to acclimatize, or gradually increase the number of hours they spend per workday in the heat. The CDC recommends a program of up to two weeks for employees just starting out, transferring from another role or coming back from time off.
Finally, it’s important for employers to change their expectations during heat waves or even during the hotter seasons of the year. Employees may self-pace, sticking to a schedule that’s comfortable for them rather than trying to meet quotas. Ultimately, employers benefit from a safer, healthier workplace. Workers who take breaks in the heat can better maintain their capacity and even their mental sharpness.
Georgia Workers’ Compensation Attorney
Heat injuries can lead to expensive medical treatment, missed time at work and light duty assignments. If you’ve experienced heat stress on the job, workers’ compensation can help. Contact the Law Offices of Laura Lanzisera today for a free consultation, or give us a call at 404-991-5097.