How Dangerous are Heat-Related Illnesses?

While autumn has arrived on the calendar, many coastal areas of the United States are still battling unseasonably warm temperatures.  When temperatures are high, the risk of developing a heat-related illness increases, which begs the question – “How Dangerous are Heat-Related Illnesses?” Whether you work on a dock, in a warehouse, or in the hot confines of a seagoing vessel or oil rig, heat-related illnesses are a real, potentially disastrous concern.

Read on to learn more about heat-related illnesses, the real dangers, and what you can do to protect yourself.

Facts and Information about Heat Illnesses

If you work in the maritime industry, you may be aware of the risk of heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or other heat-related illnesses.  But do you know just how dangerous these illnesses really are? Let’s take a look at some facts:

  • Each year, heat-related illnesses kill more people than floods, lightning, hurricanes, or tornadoes combined.
  • According to OSHA, between 1999 and 2003, around 3,400 deaths were attributed to heat-related illnesses.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that, by mid-century, heat-related deaths could surge by 3,500 to 27,000 deaths per year.
  • Extreme heat puts a strain on your lungs and heart, and can cause serious medical emergencies or diseases to develop.

Heat-Related Illnesses and Dangers

Anyone who works in a hot or humid environment is vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.  This risk is even greater if your work entails heavy lifting, wearing heavy or bulky equipment, or are working in a confined space.  When your body cannot cool itself through sweating (or sweating enough), your internal temperature can rise to dangerous levels.  Heat illnesses include a variety of conditions that range from uncomfortable to life-threatening, such as:

  • Heat Rash: Also called “prickly heat”, heat rash occurs when sweat does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash may cause clusters of red bumps that are irritating.  Clusters most commonly form on the upper chest, neck, or folds in the skin (joints, etc.).
  • Heat Cramps: When your body loses too much fluid and salt, your muscles may begin to cramp. Most common in the legs, arms, or abdomen, heat cramps can be incredibly painful and may be accompanied by muscle spasms.
  • Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion occurs as a result of loss of fluids or salt through heavy sweating. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, headache, dizziness, irritability, excessive thirst, and heavy or uncontrollable sweating.
  • Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is the most dangerous heat illness. At this stage of illness, the body is no longer able to regulate internal temperatures, and can no longer sweat to shed excess heat.  Symptoms of heat stroke may include those associated with heat exhaustion, but escalates to include confusion, loss of consciousness, or seizures.

Any of these heat-related illnesses can exacerbate or be complicated by other factors.  It is incredibly important to protect yourself from heat-related dangers.

Employer Obligations and Safe Work Environments

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific guidelines for employers and employees to prevent injuries or deaths caused by heat exposure.  OSHA standards (29 CFR 1910) state the following:

  • Employers must perform a hazard assessment of any workplace to determine if personal protective equipment (PPE) is required for safety.
  • If PPE is required, employers are required to make PPE available, and ensure that it properly fits the employee and working environment.
  • If PPE is required, a PPE program should be created to address hazards, detail proper use and maintenance of PPE gear, train employees, and monitor program use and success.
  • PPE requirements and regulations vary depending on the work environment and classification (shipyard, marine terminals, longshoring, etc.).

If employers fail to adequately assess, prepare, and protect employees, they may be cited by OSHA under the “General Duty Clause”, which outlines the employer’s obligations to provide a safe working environment that is free of recognized hazards that are likely to cause harm, serious injury, or death.

If you have questions about heat-related illnesses and your legal rights, contact us today.  Our maritime injury attorneys can help you understand the obligations of your employer, and what you can do if you have been injured as a result of an unsafe workplace or inadequate safety measures.

Know the Risks and Protect Yourself

Some of the best ways to prevent heat-related illnesses is to understand the risks, take adequate safety measures, and always put your health and wellbeing first.  To understand the risks and factors that increase risk, consider the following:

  • Heat Index: The heat index is not how hot it is outside on the thermometer, but rather how hot it feels. To calculate the heat index, meteorologists look at factors like air temperature, humidity, and wind conditions.  For example, if the air temperature is 95-degrees and the relative humidity is 80 percent, the heat index is 136-degrees Fahrenheit.  To better understand how dangerous the heat index is, consider this:
    • Heat Index 90-100: heat cramps, sun stroke, and heat exhaustion are possible with physical activity or prolonged exposure.
    • Heat Index 105-129: Heat cramps, sun stroke, and heat exhaustion are likely. Heat stroke is possible at this level with physical activity or prolonged exposure.
    • Heat Index 130 or Higher: Heat stroke or sun stroke is imminent.
  • Be Aware: When you are working, pay attention to how you feel, and how your co-workers feel. Never ignore symptoms of heat exhaustion or stroke, and do not try to “push through” any symptoms you do have.  By the time you experience symptoms, you may already be in danger.
  • Take Preventative Measures: Aside from protective gear, there are some things you can do to prevent heat-related illnesses, such as:
    • Drink plenty of water throughout the day
    • Rest in a shady location
    • Take breaks as often as needed or allowed
    • Limit time spent in the heat

Being aware, knowing the risks, and taking steps to protect yourself are the frontline against the dangers of heat-related illnesses.

If you have questions about heat-related illnesses and your legal rights as a maritime worker, contact us to discuss your situation. Learn more about maritime attorneys. Fill out our simple online form to get more information, or to schedule a free case evaluation.