Workplace-related injuries and illnesses may be compensable under workers’ compensation insurance. The important requirement in this regard is medical record analysis to obtain evidence regarding the injury or illness. Heat strokes are one such injury that workers in the construction, landscaping, manufacturing, agriculture, mail delivery, and bakeries sectors commonly experience during the hot summer months. Overwhelming heat can cause serious injuries, illnesses and even death, which employees have to guard against. Thousands of workers across the nation become ill from occupational heat exposure each year (according to OSHA), which is preventable.
Workers’ Compensation For Heat Strokes
Is workers’ compensation available for a heat stroke injury? The answer is yes, it may be. Employees are entitled to the right to work in a safe environment. Employers are required legally to provide a safe and healthy work environment at all times to their employees. There are labor laws that are in place to prevent workers from injuries associated with extended period of exposure to heat. Workers who experience heat-related illnesses or injuries may be entitled to receive compensation for the medical expenses they incur due to the injury, lost wages for missed time at work and other damages.
To get the due compensation, the worker must be able to prove that the injury was caused by his/her having to work outdoors in the heat. Even if the employee has a pre-existing condition, he or she may be eligible for the benefits if it is found that a work condition, in this case the exposure to the hot sun, aggravated that pre-existing condition thereby causing a new injury. If the heat stroke causes the employee to miss work, the employer may need to pay him/her a percentage of their wages until they are able to return to full employment.
The Risk of Heat Strokes
Heat strokes occur when the body is unable to cool down quickly during physical activity or in warm environments. While heat-related injuries are common among employees who work outside such as in the agriculture sector, indoor work environments can also be risky when the cooling systems don’t work well or are not properly maintained. The common symptoms of heat stroke are:
- Dizziness or confusion
Heat strokes occur when one’s body temperature increases more than 104 degrees within minutes. It shuts down the body’s ability to regulate temperature, and if not treated, it could lead to loss of consciousness, nervous system damage and permanent brain injury.
Medical Attention Is Vital
As mentioned earlier, once a heat stroke occurs, the medical records of the patient and medical chart review become important considerations. Typically, the injured person is quickly taken to the hospital or healthcare organization for medical assistance. The doctor there would confirm a diagnosis of heat stroke by carrying out appropriate tests to rule out any other potential causes and diagnose any damage to the body or organs. Medical tests required include blood tests, urine analysis, x-rays, and muscle function. While these tests and their results are vital for the worker’s health and safety, they are also important evidence when developing a workers’ compensation claim.
Enhanced Federal Measures Announced to Address the Heat Stroke Challenge
The Biden administration recently announced enhanced and expanded measures by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to deal with hazards associated with extreme heat exposure faced by workers both indoors and outdoors. The Department of Labor, in a statement, said that there has been widespread under-reporting of heat-related injuries and deaths – 43 heat-related deaths were reported to OSHA in 2019, and around 2,410 others suffered serious injuries and illnesses from heat.
- OSHA is implementing a National Emphasis Program on heat-related hazards, and launching a rulemaking process in October to develop a workplace heat standard meant to provide guidance to employers.
- Alongside, the agency is also forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group. This is expected to provide a better understanding of challenges involved and identify and share the best practices to protect workers.
- OSHA had already implemented an intervention and enforcement initiative recently to prevent and protect workers from heat-related illnesses and deaths when working in dangerous hot environments. This initiative has been helpful for workers in the agriculture and construction sectors, and it prioritizes heat-related interventions and inspections of work-related activities on days when the heat index crosses 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
- OSHA has prioritized inspections of heat-associated complaints, referrals and employer-reported illnesses. In addition, the agency plans to widen the scope of other inspections to effectively deal with heat-associated hazards wherever worksite conditions or other evidence shows such hazards may be present.
Workers’ compensation benefits protect injured or ill workers by providing coverage for the medical expenses incurred and compensating for the lost wages. As a medical review company assisting workers’ compensation attorneys, we understand that the services of a competent attorney help speed up claim processing. Also, expert legal assistance enables the claimant to better understand his rights. A good Workers’ compensation attorney will strive to prove that the illness or injury was caused directly from heat exhaustion and the employee’s working conditions.