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Heat-Related Injuries & New Jersey Workers’ Compensation

high temp on thermometer

With New Jersey again experiencing record-breaking high temperatures this Summer, workers should take precautions to keep themselves safe and know their rights under our Worker’s Compensation system.

That’s because hot weather can greatly increase risks for work-related accidents and various heat-related injuries. Common risks for workers who perform jobs outdoors in summer include:

  • Heat stroke, the most serious heat-related illness
  • Fainting, cramps, and rashes
  • Heat exhaustion, dizziness, and dehydration
  • Falls or falling objects caused by sweaty hands or slippery surfaces
  • Fogged eyewear and obscured vision
  • Burn injuries from contact with hot objects

Heat-related injuries have been compensable in New Jersey since 1940, when the Supreme Court of New Jersey determined in the case of Ciocca v. Sugar Refining Co. of NJ that injured workers and families should be entitled to benefits if heat is a significant contributing factor to the development of an illness, or even death. These benefits include treatment, temporary disability, and permanency benefits. If a worker passes away due to a heat-related illness, his dependents would be entitled to benefits.

Types of Heat-Related Illnesses

Exposure to heat and high temperatures is a health hazard that can cause serious illness and death.

According to the CDC, the most serious heat-related illness is heat stroke, which occurs when body temperature rises rapidly, sweating mechanisms fail, and the body is no longer able to cool itself and control its temperature. Heat stroke can cause body temperature to rise to 106 °F in a matter of minutes and can lead to permanent disability or death if emergency treatment is not provided.

Signs of heat stroke:

  • Confusion, altered mental state, and slurred speech
  • Fainting / loss of consciousness
  • Dry, hot skin or profuse sweating
  • Seizures
  • Elevated body temperature

In addition to heat stroke, there are other types of heat-related illnesses:

  • Heat exhaustion: The body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt through sweating.
  • Rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo): A medical condition associated with heat stress and prolonged physical exertion that can cause muscle tissue death, irregular heart rhythms, seizures, and kidney damage.
  • Heat syncope: Dizziness or fainting that often occurs after standing too long or suddenly standing after sitting or lying due to dehydration and lack of acclimatization.
  • Heat cramps: Painful cramps caused by low salt levels in muscles that’s most common among workers who sweat a lot during strenuous activity.
  • Heat rash: Skin irritation that results from excessive sweating during hot / humid weather.

Heat Illness Risk Factors

There are many factors that can increase a worker’s risk of suffering heat-related injuries. Examples include:

  • Working outdoors or in hot environments
  • Jobs that expose workers to extreme heat (i.e. paving, welding, etc.)
  • Work in hot spaces such as attics or crawlspaces or in direct sunlight
  • Being over the age of 65 or being overweight
  • Heart disease or high blood pressure

Tips to Avoid Heat-Related Work Injuries

Given the risks of working in high temperatures, workers and employers should take extra precautions to ensure safety during summer months. Below are a few important tips from OSHA:

For Workers:

  • For summer jobs, bring sun protection, water, and other gear to help you stay cool and cool off.
  • Recognize the symptoms of heat stress, which can include dizziness, fatigue, excessive sweating, high body temperature, headache, and confusion.
  • Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water, especially when performing strenuous job duties. If possible, take breaks indoors or in the shade.
  • Speak with your doctor about medications you take and whether they cause dehydration or increase your risks for heat illness.
  • Listen to you body and don’t attempt to push through dangerous symptoms to finish a job.

For Employers:

  • Create a heat illness prevention program for jobs exposed to heat / high temperatures.
  • Encourage employees to take frequent breaks and adequately hydrate.
  • Schedule jobs for cooler parts of the day / week if possible.
  • Have flexibility to change schedules as temperatures, sunshine, or humidity increase, and for jobs that are strenuous or require heavy protective clothing.
  • Acclimatize workers to heat by gradually increasing exposure to high temperatures over a period of several days or weeks rather than one long sudden exposure.
  • Train workers about the hazards that can lead to heat stress and ways to prevent them.
  • Provide cool water for workers; at least one pint of water per hour is needed.

Help for Workers Injured on the Job

Levinson Axelrod, P.A. has fought for clients across New Jersey in workers’ compensation and personal injury matters since 1939. Comprised of highly experienced attorneys and NJ Supreme Court Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialists, our team is available to help workers who’ve suffered heat-related injuries explore their options for recovering needed compensation. To speak with an attorney during a FREE consultation, call (732) 440-3089 or contact us online.