Heat Illnesses and Workers’ Compensation: What You Need to Know

Heat exposure can lead to many different medical conditions. There are many occupations in which Workers are exposed to extreme heat. Injuries sustained as a result of this occupational heat exposure fall within workers’ compensation. Therefore, a Worker injured due to heat exposure is entitled to claim the full accoutrements of workers’ compensation benefits: Total Temporary Disability, Permanent Disability, Medical Care, Job Displacement Voucher and Death Benefits.

What are Heat-Related Illnesses?

Heat-Related Illnesses include Heat Stroke, Heat Exhaustion, Heat Cramps, and Heat Rash.

  • Heat Stroke is the most serious form of heat illness. It requires immediate medical treatment. Symptoms include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures.
  • Heat Exhaustion is a less serious form of heat illness. It can involve headaches, nausea, dizziness, irritability, thirst and heavy sweating. It can lead to heat stroke.
  • Heat Cramps is a mild form of heat illness. It is essentially muscle cramps and spasms. They can occur either when working or not.
  • Heat Rash is a skin irritation. It is also known as “prickly heat.”

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Where in the Workplace is there Heat Exposure?

Sources of heat in the workplace are numerous. There are businesses in which individuals work in high temperatures. This can include working out in the field doing agriculture work or working near machinery that generate high temperatures. This can involve working in a factory or a bakery. Further, people that engage in strenuous physical activities can have the potential for causing heat-related illnesses. For example, football players in their uniforms.

Generally speaking, are there Different Exposures to Heat in the Workplace?

Yes. There are different exposures to heat. Workplace exposure to heat can be both in indoor and outdoor environments.

People can be exposed to heat such as working outside, working where there are radiant heat sources such as exhaust, working where there is high humidity, working in direct contact with hot objects, or engaging in physical activities.

What Types of Occupations have Hot Conditions?

Per OSHA, these occupations include metal refineries/foundries. Further, brick manufacturers, ceramic manufacturers, glass manufacturers, electrical utilities, bakeries, commercial kitchens, laundries, chemical plants, and warehouses also have hot conditions. Outside working occupations with heat exposure include farm work, construction, oil and gas well operations, landscaping, emergency response providers and hazardous waste site activities.

Does the Government have any Regulations Concerning Heat Exposure?

For the Federal Government, OSHA currently has “no specific OSHA standards for occupational heat exposure.” However, under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.

California, however, has specific laws to address Heat Illness. It is Regulation Section 3395. This provides for Heat Illness prevention for outdoor places of employment. This applies to (A) Agriculture; (B) Construction; (C) Landscaping; (D) Oil and Gas extraction; (E) Transportation or delivery of agricultural products, construction materials or other heavy materials (e.g. furniture, lumber, freight, cargo, cabinets, industrial or commercial materials), except for employment that consists of operating an air-conditioned vehicle and does not include loading or unloading.

California Law defines “Heat Illness” as a serious medical condition resulting from the body’s inability to cope with a particular heat load, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat syncope and heat stroke.”

Further it defines “Environmental risk factors for heat illness” as working conditions that create the possibility that heat illness could occur, including air temperature, relative humidity, radiant heat from the sun and other sources, conductive heat sources such as the ground, air movement, workload severity and duration, protective clothing and personal protective equipment worn by employees.

The law allows for various safeguards including the provision of potable water, access to shade, compensated cool down periods, observation and monitoring, emergency response procedures, acclimation, training, and a heat illness prevention plan

Is there Case Law Involving Heat Exposures to Work as being Industrial?

Yes. There have been numerous workers’ compensation cases involving heat injuries, namely heat stroke. Case law on heat illnesses range on the entire spectrum of workers’ compensation: from injury arising out of and in the course and scope of employment, to death cases as result of heat exposure.

The following are samples of those cases:

In Harris vs. New Capps, 2015 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 632, in a Death Claim, Dr. Wiggins concluded that based upon postmortem electrolyte studies, Mr. Harris’ death was within reasonable medical probability not caused by heat stress or heat stroke.

In Gutierrez vs. Barrett Business Services, 2017 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 115, the WCJ, in her Opinion on Decision, concluded that the evidence established that applicant suffered from heat stroke while working in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.

In Casualty Insurance Company of California vs. IAC, (1956) 21 C.C.C. 305 (writ denied) on death case awarding benefits, it was argued that the evidence did show a special exposure to the risk of heat stroke, since the employment required decedent to work out of doors in high temperatures, which was not true of many other employees in the area.

Where Can I Get Legal Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.

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