Summer is just around the corner. And with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in Kern County, employers and employees must take precautions against the summer heat.
Heat-related illnesses can cause serious injury, and even death, with local agricultural and construction industries particularly affected when temperatures rise.
Under California’s Heat Illness Prevention Act, growers and contractors are required to provide water, shade and rest breaks to workers. In addition, supervisors are required to receive training on the signs of heat illness, and fines for not adhering to these rules could reach $25,000.
In addition, employers are required to establish, implement and maintain an effective injury and illness prevention program. To successfully tailor procedures to your work activities, evaluate and consider the special conditions at your work site. An employer should consider the size of the crew, the length of the work-shift, the ambient temperature, and the presence of personal protective equipment or additional sources of heat.
If you as a worker begin to suffer any of the signs or symptoms associated with heatstroke, you should immediately notify supervisors so that remedial steps can be taken. Do not delay in reporting your situation, as heat-related medical conditions can be life-threatening if left unattended. If first aid is not sufficient to treat symptoms or complaints and medical attention is required, the filing of a workers’ compensation claim may be necessary.
Here are some other notes to keep in mind regarding heat-related illnesses:
Heat exhaustion versus heatstroke
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is depleted of water and salt; in other words, the body is dehydrated. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include confusion, dark-colored urine, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, headache, muscle or abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, pale skin, and rapid heartbeat. If not addressed, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, the most serious of heat-related illnesses.
During a heatstroke, a person’s core body temperature reaches 105 degrees or higher, which directly affects the nervous system. Symptoms of heatstroke include fainting, throbbing headache, dizziness or light-headedness, lack of sweating, hot or dry skin, muscle weakness or cramps, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat, confusion, disorientation, staggering, seizures and unconsciousness.
There are several ways to avoid a heat-related emergency. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink fluids because thirst is not a good indicator of fluid loss. Drink plenty of water when you know you will be in a hot environment. Make sure to wear loose, light and lightweight clothing when exposed to heat to encourage heat release. Avoid hot, heavy meals during the workday. A heavy meal will divert blood flow to aid with digestion. Make sure to take frequent breaks, rest under shade and hydrate.
In the event of a heat-related emergency, call 911. Move the victim to a cool shaded area and loosen and remove any heavy clothing. If the person is still conscious, have them drink cool water and try cooling the person down by fanning them. If ice is available, place ice packs are on the person’s head, armpits and groin. Heat-related illnesses are 100 percent preventable.
— James Yoro is a senior partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, where he manages the law firm’s workers’ compensation practice and has nearly 40 years of experience in his field. Beatriz Trejo is an associate attorney focusing on work injuries at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.