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Protecting workers from heat-related illnesses

Some workers are at risk of suffering heat-related illnesses because they are exposed to hot temperatures and the sun while on the job. Pennsylvania employees might not realize that thousands of workers become ill every year in the United States because of excessive heat exposure, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In 2012, more than 30 died from heat-related sickness.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are required to provide workers with work environments that are free of recognized hazards that are likely to cause serious injury or death, including heat stroke and related conditions. OSHA has increased its focus on and enforcement of the act, citing employers for not protecting workers properly.

Employers can ensure that they are providing adequate protection by evaluating conditions at work sites and taking steps to avert heat-related sickness, particularly among workers who are required to do continuous or intense physical exertion or are exposed to hot temperatures and direct sunlight or humidity. They could use a smartphone app provided by OSHA to measure heat stress conditions in direct sunlight, taking into account humidity, cloud cover, temperature, wind speed and heat index.

Employees who have not worked in high-temperature conditions before are at a higher risk of heat-related illness. Effective methods to protect these workers include allowing them to take frequent water breaks in the shade and gradually increasing their workloads as well as heat and humidity exposure. For all outdoor workers, employers could provide shade or air conditioning near the work site, change outdoor work schedules on days when the heat index is lower or during cooler times of the day, and provide or encourage workers to wear permeable, light-colored clothing.

While employers who do not follow OSHA regulations may be cited, workers who suffer from heat-related illness because of it might qualify for workers' compensation. This could ensure that related medical bills are paid and that they receive replacement income for the time that they are unable to work.

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Law Office of Richard F. Maffett Experienced Harrisburg, PA Attorney

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