Most people tend to associate cold weather with workplace accidents, but warmer weather brings its own slew of hazards. At The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., our New York City attorneys have helped injured victims protect their legal rights following all types of workplace accidents. From construction accidents to work-related motor vehicle collisions, the cases we handle involve all types of circumstances—including the risks that arise or increase during the spring and summer.
Warmer Weather’s Work Safety Risks
Common examples of heat-related illnesses and injuries include the following:
- Heatstroke: The most serious heat illness, heatstroke occurs when the body is no longer able to regulate its temperature. Dangerous body temperatures and rapid increases in body temperature can become medical emergencies when left unaddressed, posing the risk of permanent disability or even death. Profuse sweating or hot and dry skin, rapid heart rate, chills, confusion, and slurred speech are the most common signs and symptoms of heatstroke.
- Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to a loss of water and salt. Symptoms include excessive sweating, fatigue, weakness, dizziness and confusion, headaches, fainting, clammy or flushed skin, and muscle cramping. If ignored, heat exhaustion may lead to heatstroke and other accidents and injuries.
- Burn injuries: Tools, metals, and machinery left in the sun or hot areas can be heated to dangerous temperatures. When a worker attempts to use these hot tools, they may suffer a serious burn injury.
- Dangerous substances: When not handled properly in warm weather, toxic materials may be subjected to hotter temperatures. This can easily lead to explosions, fires, and toxic exposure.
Construction workers are at a particularly high risk of suffering these heat-related illnesses and injuries, in part because they often work in non-climate-controlled areas (e.g., outside or in crawlspaces). From 1992 to 2016, about 285 construction workers died from heat-related causes; nonfatal heat-related injuries and illnesses are even more common.
That said, workers from all industries should take proper precautions. In 2015, the last year for which data is available, 37 workers died and 2,830 nonfatal illnesses and injuries were sustained due to heat-related causes.
How to Stay Safe at Work on Warmer Days
- Stay hydrated—choose water over dehydrating drinks like coffee, tea, and soda.
- Whenever you can, rest in the shade or indoors.
- Wear sunscreen, hats, and other forms of sun protection.
- Know the symptoms and signs of heat illnesses and monitor yourself for them.
- Practice caution when touching or working with equipment that has been in the sun—use gloves, if needed.
What to Do if a Heat Illness or Injury Occurs
Treatment varies depending on the type of heat illness or injury sustained:
- For heat stroke: Call 911 and stay with the worker until medical help arrives. Move the worker to a shaded, cool area. Remove unnecessary clothing, such as sweaters, shoes, and socks, etc. Next, quickly cool the worker down: wet the skin, place cold, wet cloths on the skin, or soak their clothing with cool water. (If you did not soak their clothing, make sure to at least place cold, wet cloths on the head, neck, armpits, and groin.)
- For heat exhaustion: Take the worker to urgent care. If this is too far, call 911. Then, remove the worker out of the hot area and give them cool water to drink. It may help for them to remove their unnecessary clothing. Attempt to cool them down with cold compresses or have them wash their own head, face, and neck with cold water until help arrives.
- For burns and other serious heat-related injuries: For serious injuries, it is always best to call 911. Again, stay by the worker to support them until help arrives.
Employer Responsibilities & Workers’ Rights
Employers are obligated by law to provide safe working conditions for their employees. They must also take steps to address any potential hazards that may cause workers harm, such as hot weather and the sun. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) emphasizes there are considerable and known risks associated with working in warmer weather. It also notes that employers are responsible for providing working conditions that address these hazards and keep workers safe.
Unfortunately, employers and other negligent parties (contractors, product manufacturers, property owners, etc.) may fail to take the proper precautions to protect employees during warmer months, such as by:
- Failing to provide adequate breaks or sufficient access to drinking water;
- Failing to provide proper protective equipment; and
- Failing to educate workers about heat illnesses/injuries and how to prevent/address them.
If the mismanagement of heat-related risks leads to a workplace injury, workers have the right to explore their options for recovering financial compensation.
Have You Suffered a Heat-Related Work Injury?
Injured workers may have the right to hold employers or other negligent third parties liable for damages resulting from heat-related injuries and illnesses, particularly when at-fault parties violate OSHA regulations, the NY Labor Law, and their duty to protect workers.
Every case is unique. Consult an experienced workplace injury lawyer to determine whether you have a valid claim for compensation and what legal pathway (i.e., workers’ compensation insurance claim or civil injury suit) is best for you.
Our attorney team at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., is ready to help you learn more about your rights and options. We proudly serve workers and families across all NYC boroughs and beyond. Contact us online for a free consultation.