Texas has always been hot, and it seems to be getting even hotter. The summer of 2022 was the second warmest on record in Texas. When heat waves raise temperatures to the triple digits on a regular basis in the summer, outdoor workers risk heat-related illnesses and even death. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more people die from extremely high temperatures than from any other natural disaster, and Texas has more heat-related deaths than any other state.
Texas employers are responsible for protecting their workers from safety hazards such as extreme temperatures. If your employer does not do so, and you become ill as a result of working in very hot weather, your employer could be held responsible for your resulting damages, including medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering.
Heat-Related Injuries in the Workplace and Symptoms
Supervisors of outdoor workers in hot weather should be on the lookout for symptoms of various heat-related injuries in the workplace and be prepared to assist affected workers. Early warning signs of a dangerous heat-related injury include the following.
A worker who stands still in the hot sun for long periods of time may become dizzy or lose consciousness. Heat syncope happens when high environmental temperatures cause blood vessels to dilate, resulting in a blood pressure drop and possible loss of consciousness.
An employee who perspires heavily while working in extreme heat loses necessary fluids and salts from muscles. Painful cramps in the legs, arms, or stomach can result. Cramps are often the first sign of heat-related illness.
Heat Rash (Prickly Heat)
In a very humid environment where perspiration does not dry quickly, a worker can develop a rash on the neck, chest, or upper back. This is a signal that the worker needs to get out of the heat and direct sunlight.
When the body loses fluids due to sweating and insufficient hydration, a worker can experience fatigue, nausea, light-headedness, headache, irritability, and weakness. Heat exhaustion can occur days after exposure to extremely hot working conditions.
A fast pulse, nausea, dizziness, headache, seizures, collapse, confusion, slurred speech, passing out, and hot or red skin are indicators of heat stroke, which is the most serious of all heat-related illnesses. The body loses its ability to sweat and cannot cool itself, so a heat stroke victim’s temperature can rise as high as 103 degrees. If the temperature is not reduced quickly, brain damage can result. Heat stroke can lead to death if not treated promptly and properly.
Workers at Risk of Heat-Related Injuries
While agricultural workers are the most likely to suffer heat-related illnesses or death, employees in forestry, landscaping, road construction, building, mail delivery, waste management, and other outdoor occupations are also extremely vulnerable to high temperatures. They might suffer heat illnesses, be burnt by hot metal tools and surfaces, lose their grip on tools or ladder rungs due to sweat, or fall dizzy.
What Is an Employer’s Responsibility?
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) require employers to protect employees from heat-related illnesses by assessing potential on-the-job heat hazards, providing drinking water, and training workers in first-aid procedures. Researchers at the University of Missouri recommend that workers get used to heat gradually, wear light summer clothing and hats, be permitted to rest in the shade on breaks, consume water four times hourly, and watch each other for signs of heat-related illness.
First-Aid for Heat Injury
A foreman or supervisor who notices symptoms of heat injury can take several steps to help the injured worker, including the following:
- Cease activity. Stop the employee’s activity.
- Relocate the worker. Move the worker to a cool or shaded place.
- Hydrate the employee. Give the employee plenty of water to drink.
- Remove excess clothing if needed. Allow the worker to remove shoes, socks, and excess clothing.
- Apply cooling measures. If possible, fan the employee and apply a cool, wet cloth to the skin.
- Stretch the affected muscle. If heat cramps persist, help the worker stretch the muscles affected by the cramps.
- Help them to lie down. Help a nauseous employee to lie down on the left side.
- Reposition the worker if unconscious and safe to do so. Have a dizzy or unconscious worker lie down on the back and raise the legs six inches above the heart.
- Call 911. If symptoms persist or the worker remains unconscious, call 911 and wait with the worker until help arrives.
Legal Help for Employees of Non-Subscribing Employers
Unlike many other states, Texas does not require all employers to subscribe to state workers' compensation insurance. If your employer is a subscriber, you may not sue the business over your work-related heat injury. Your only recourse is to file a workers’ compensation claim for benefits to cover your medical bills and two-thirds of your lost wages.
If, however, your employer is a non-subscriber who failed to provide the heat protection described above or failed to assist you when you suffered a heat-related injury, you may be able to sue your employer. The Houston work injury lawyers at SJ Injury Attorneys in Houston and Pasadena can evaluate your case, tell you where you stand, and help you file a personal injury lawsuit to cover your medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering, which state workers’ comp does not cover.