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Understanding the heat-related illnesses that can affect workers

While most view the Memorial Day holiday weekend as a time for both remembrance and relaxation, it's important not to forget that it also serves as the unofficial start of summer, meaning it won't be long until the temperature starts to rise.

The reality of warmer temperatures and sunny skies is understandably a welcome proposition to those of us who live in colder winter climates. However, with this return to 80- and 90-plus degree days comes certain dangers, especially to those men and women who must work outside from oil, gas and refinery personnel to builders, landscapers and farm workers.

Specifically, these individuals are at an elevated risk of falling victim to heat-related illnesses. Indeed, statistics from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration reveal that over 2,600 workers endured a heat-related illness while another 18 lost their lives to heat stroke in 2014 alone.

Given this reality, it's important for workers and employers alike to understand the various heat-related illnesses that can affect workers when the mercury climbs higher.

  • Heat rash: When the conditions are hot and humid, such that sweat is not easily removed from the skin surface via evaporation and moisture remains, the sweat ducts can become clogged and a heat rash can form.
  • Heat cramps: When a worker is sweating profusely and consumes a significant amount of water, he or she may experience muscle cramping/spasms, as the water is not adequately addressing the body's loss of salt.
  • Heat exhaustion: When a person endures considerable fluid loss by sweating and continues to do so, they may begin to feel everything from fatigue, dizziness and nausea to cramping, elevated heart rate and headache. These are the telltale signs of heat exhaustion, and signal the need for immediate rest in cool conditions and liquids.
  • Heat stroke: When a person is exposed to the heat for too long and improperly hydrated, he or she may see sweating become ineffective and their body's temperature regulatory system shut down. Heat stroke, which can drive a person's internal temperature to 105-plus degrees, is evidenced by dry and hot skin, loss of consciousness and/or convulsions. The provision of emergency medical treatment is imperative.

We'll continue this discussion on heat-related illnesses over the months ahead, examining everything from prevention to treatment.

If you've been seriously injured while on the job and saw your claim for workers' compensation benefits denied, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.

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