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Workplace heat-related illnesses potentially deadly

Many individuals in North Carolina work in hot conditions, either outside during the hot season or inside buildings without cooling or ventilation. Every year, thousands of workers get sick due to heat-related workplace illnesses. In 2012, more than 30 deaths were attributed to workplace heat-related illnesses.

Most workplace heat-related illnesses are preventable. An employer can take simple steps to prevent heat-related illness. These include educating workers of the dangers and symptoms of heat-related illness as well the procedure to be followed when a worker exhibits those symptoms. Workers in hot workplaces should have frequent breaks in a cool area for drinking water and resting. Employers can modify work schedules so that the most physically demanding work is done during the cooler times of day.

Employers should address the issue of acclimatization. An individual who has not built up a tolerance to heat is at greater risk for heat-related illnesses. An OSHA study found lack of acclimatization to be the factor most closely associated with death due to workplace heat-related illnesses. For new or returning employees, acclimatization is essential. These employees should start with a limited amount of time in the heat and increase the time each day over several days. Full acclimatization can take as long as 14 days or even longer for individuals with certain medical conditions.

Working in a hot environment should not place employees at risk. Employers have a duty to provide a workplace free of hazards likely to cause serious harm or death. An individual who has suffered a heat-related illness that may be work-related may speak to an attorney with experience in workers’ compensation cases. The attorney may be able to assist the individual in filing a workers’ compensation claim for medical expenses and lost earnings resulting from the workplace heat-related illness.

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