Temperatures across the globe are hitting record highs on was seems like a daily basis, and New York City is no exception. In the first three weeks of July, the local temperature hit or exceeded 90°F six times, most of which occurred during the heat wave that swept across the United States from the end of June through mid-July.
According to AccuWeather, the average temperature for the city in July is 83°F-84°F, and these spikes in temperature can come with deadly consequences, especially for people performing manual labor throughout the day. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 4,000 people were injured and 39 people died because of heat exposure-related complications in 2016 alone. However, some consumer-advocacy groups like Public Citizen believe that this figure may fall short of the real number due to underreporting of these types of injuries.
Because heat exhaustion doesn’t present with the same type of obvious symptoms like, say, a broken leg, people suffering from it may attempt to “power through” any issues for the sake of not seeming weak, or it may be brushed aside by supervisors who think that their workers are simply looking for a reason to take a break. However, just because the symptoms of heat exhaustion don’t present in the same way as most serious injuries, it can have fatal consequences. Some of the symptoms include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Extreme fatigue
- Dizzy spells
If these symptoms, especially those affecting someone’s cognition are ignored, the chance of the worker making an otherwise avoidable mistake increases drastically. Despite the obvious danger heat exhaustion poses to workers, only three states have workplace heat-exposure standards: Washington, Minnesota, and California. There is no federal law that covers heat exposure on the job.
In response to these statistics and the clear need for protection, more than 130 organizations, including Public Citizen and eight major labor unions filed a petition with the Department of Labor on July 17, urging it to adopt similar protections to those in place in those three states. These protections would include establishing emergency medical procedures for workers affected by heat-related illnesses, and requirements for employers to provide their workers with shaded areas on the worksite, rest periods, and water.
The Current Laws are Important, but They Came Too Late to Save Everyone
While the current heat-safety laws currently in place require employers to provide their workers with protections on excessively hot days, some of them only passed after people died because of heat exposure. California’s law was held up for a decade and only passed after several farmworkers died, including one who collapsed on the job and died of heatstroke after picking grapes for 10 hours in 105°F weather in 2004.
“If a job consists of being out in the sun working long shifts in the worst conditions, employers need to protect their workers,” Raudel Felix Garcia said during a press conference after his brother, Audon Felix García died of heat stroke five days after he arrived from Mexico to work in California for the summer. He died in the passenger seat of a truck he loaded 25-pound boxes of grapes into in temperatures exceeding 110°F. “I don’t want any more families to go through the pain that my family went through. I am here to demand safe working conditions for the ones who lift up this country with all the hard work they do laboring under a fireball in the sky. We cannot lose more lives.”
Heat-related injuries are among the least likely to be reported because they heavily affect farmworkers and construction workers, two professions that employ a considerable number of undocumented and immigrant workers who could be threatened with legal repercussions for reporting their employer’s negligence.
Heat-related hazards are only expected to become worse in the coming decades due to the effect global warming has on temperatures across the United States and the world as a whole. Researchers predict that the number of “dangerous heat days” that occur every year – days when the heat index exceeds 104°F – will more than double by 2030 compared to at the turn of the millennium. In 2000, there were an average of 20 dangerous heat days in the 133 cities tracked by the report, but researchers expect that number to hit 44 days out of the year.
If you suffered a serious injury on the job, it’s important for you to find and hire the right legal representation. At the Perecman Firm, we have spent decades representing injured construction workers throughout New York City, and through our efforts we have secured more than $400 million in verdicts and settlements for our clients. Call us at (212) 577-9325 to discuss your situation with one of our NYC construction accident lawyers today, or fill out our online form to set up a free case evaluation.