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Tillman & Associates, Attorneys at Law

Heat Exhaustion: New hires could be at greater risk of harm

Occupational heat exposure is something that can take the uninitiated by surprise. If you've never worked in a factory, warehouse, or other environment where you've been exposed to extreme heat, those first few days on the job can be brutal -- and deadly.

Employers know that heat is an issue, especially for employees who haven't had a chance to acclimate to the working conditions. As such, they're expected to take measures to counter the effects of heat exhaustion, including stopping it before it gets started.

Supervisors in charge of new hires should consider several different methods of reducing the chances that heat will injure or kill new employees in particular. However, these methods can be useful for all employees in general.

They should also be considered for anyone who is coming off a long absence, particularly a medical leave. The employee's body may have become extra-sensitive after some time away from the working conditions, or the employee may still be struggling to recover from his or her illness.

1. Phase new or returning employees in slowly. That means not putting someone in for a full shift immediately, but working up to a full shift over at least a week. That gives the employee's body time to adjust to the demands of the workplace.

2. Make sure that there are specific on/off rotations during the day where employees are required to take breaks.Encourage plenty of hydration and make sure that there is clean drinking water and cups available near workstations and in break rooms.

3. Use the "buddy system" so that no worker is left alone to work under extremely hot temperatures. Make sure to pair employees who are new or returning with employees who are more experienced and better acclimatized to the heat.

4. Educate every new hire on the symptoms of heat exhaustion. Hold periodic retraining for all employees to make sure that they can recognize heat exhaustion when they see it starting in a co-worker, who may become disoriented and unable to recognize what's happening to himself or herself.

Heat exhaustion can lead to serious injuries. People can faint and get injured as they fall. Heart attacks can occur. Heatstroke, which is life-threatening, can cause permanent damage to your brain and other vital organs.

If your employer failed to consider this aspect of workplace safety and you were injured as a result, consider consulting an attorney for advice.

Source: OSHA United States Department of Labor, "Occupational Heat Exposure," accessed Jan. 23, 2017

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