Workers Exposed to Excessive Temperatures Risk Heat Exhaustion/Stroke

Last year, North Carolina saw breaking heat records at the end of June. The triple-digit temperatures peaked on June 29, 2012 when they reached 105 degrees at Raleigh Durham Airport. The heat was so bad that the interstates cracked under the extreme heat. According to the North Carolina Public Health records, there were approximately 431 heat-related illnesses observed during this heat wave.

Each year, thousands of workers suffer from occupational heat exposure. Heat exposure frequently leads to heat exhaustion. Workers may initially have symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and extreme thirst. Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke when the body’s temperature regulation fails. The worker may develop a change in mental status, become confused, lethargic, and may have a seizure. This is a life-threatening condition and emergency medical attention is needed immediately. If not promptly treated, the worker may suffer from heat stroke which can trigger a variety of serious problems, including a heart attack.

According to OSHA, 134 workers died from excessive heat between 2009 and 2011. The report showed that agricultural and construction workers were especially vulnerable since they worked long hours in direct sunlight and were exposed to the environment with little relief. As a result, in 2011 OSHA created an educational campaign to inform employers and workers of the dangers of heat exposure. Currently, however, there is not yet a federal standard to protect workers.

To avoid heat exhaustion, it is recommended that workers exposed to the environment wear loose fitting clothing, drink plenty of water, avoid caffeine, and avoid strenuous activities, if possible, in the middle of the day.