Recognizing and preventing summer heat-related injuries in Georgia

With summer upon us, and that hot Georgia sun beaming down, it is important for workers to take steps to keep themselves safe from heat-related injuries. While many people might think that they can just be "tough" and take hot weather in stride, the truth is that serious injuries can result from prolonged physical exertion in hot weather, particularly in the sometimes-brutal humidity that is a mainstay throughout the South.

Heat stroke, heat exhaustion and other heat-related injuries can affect workers in any industry. However, construction workers, agricultural workers, road crews, landscapers and others who work outdoors face a particularly high risk of injury. Workers who are overweight, older or who have high blood pressure are also in jeopardy.

Recognizing and treating heat-related injuries

Hot weather injuries occur when a person's body cannot adequately cool itself by sweating. Heat injuries may start as minor cramps or skin irritation (rashes or welts), but can quickly progress into serious heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Without prompt, proper treatment, heat stroke can lead to permanent disability and even death.

It is important to recognize the signs of heat injury so that you can prevent serious complications. If you start experiencing any of the following symptoms while at your Georgia workplace, get out of the heat as soon as possible:

  • Heavy sweating with clammy skin
  • Chills
  • Unusual weakness, fatigue, dizziness or confusion
  • Pale or flushed skin
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Elevated body temperature

Signs of heat stroke

Heat injuries can get worse very quickly. If you or a coworker develops any of the symptoms of heat stroke, it is important to call 911 as soon as possible. These symptoms include:

  • Profuse sweating or skin that is hot and dry
  • Throbbing headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Significant confusion or dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Chills
  • Hallucinations

While you wait for first responders to arrive, take steps to help the victim cool down. This can include moving the victim to a cool and shaded area, soaking or spraying the victim with water, and fanning the victim's body.

Preventing heat injuries

As with most workplace safety issues, the best way to address heat injuries is to take steps to prevent them before they occur. When it comes to heat injury prevention, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) advises employers to keep three words in mind: "water, rest, shade."

All employees who work in hot conditions - either inside or outdoors - should be given regular access to cool, clean water. Workers should be encouraged to take regular water breaks, even if they do not feel thirsty, since proactive hydration is one of the best weapons against heat exhaustion.

In addition, outdoor employees should be encouraged to take regular rest breaks in a shaded area. Getting out of the sun will aid in the cooling process. Furthermore, rest will also help workers be more productive in the longrun.

Finding help

Workers who develop heat-related injuries can seek workers' compensation benefits to pay for medical care and make up for any lost wages. Workers who are having difficulty collecting their benefits would be well advised to consult with an experienced workers' compensation attorney who can help them protect their rights.