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What does OSHA say about the dangers of heat illness?

We've spent some time this summer discussing the health and safety of outdoor workers in Utica. And while we've reviewed a lot of information from OSHA about who is at risk and what steps are necessary (especially on the employer's part) to prevent the onset of heat illness, we know that workers who suffer this condition may face backlash based on a lack of understanding.

Before we move on to other topics on our blog, let's take a look what the federal agency says about the nature of heat illness itself. Just how serious is it? What are the symptoms of heat illness and what can be done? The information is general in nature; it is not intended as specific legal advice.

One of the most common symptoms of heat illness is a heat rash. It does not require first aid. More serious, however, are heat cramps. A result of salt lost from the body through sweat, these painful spasms in the legs, arms or abdomen are a sign that a worker needs to rest in the shade and drink water. He or she should not resume that same level of labor for a few hours. Medical attention should be sought if the cramps do not subside.

Severe loss of salt and fluids through sweat will lead to heat exhaustion. Symptoms include nausea, headache, dizziness and weakness in addition to sweating and extreme thirst. If shade, rest and cool fluids do not alleviate these symptoms within an hour, victims need urgent medical treatment. They cannot resume work for the day.

Heat stroke can occur if any of these conditions are not treated appropriately and workers continue laboring in the heat. They may get confused, faint, suffer a seizure and stop sweating despite their extreme heat. Heat stroke is a medical emergency -- 911 should be called immediately because victims can die from it.

In other words, yes, heat illness is a serious condition, potentially even a fatal one according to OSHA. It can be prevented if the early signs are recognized and acted upon. But in particular, severe illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke will require time away from work for treatment and recovery, and victims may want to look into the possibility of workers' compensation. Workers in these situations may consider consulting with a legal professional to answer their questions and ensure their rights are protected.

Source: OSHA.gov, "Heat-related Illnesses and First Aid," accessed on Aug. 7, 2015

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