In Ohio, we may not see the triple-digit temperatures that are becoming the norm in the South and Southwest, but summers in Columbus are hot and humid enough. If you work outdoors in the summer, you know how hot it can get. A new study of worker injuries shows that construction crews, delivery drivers, landscapers, and park workers face not only heat exhaustion and heat stroke in the summer but they are also at an increased risk of exertional injuries and life-threatening events.
Know that any injury, illness, or fatality that occurs while a person is performing work-related duties should be covered by Ohio workers’ compensation. This includes heat-related illness and stress-induced heart attacks, as well as the more common exertional injuries.
Summer Heat-Related Injury Risks in Ohio
The study warning us about heat-related exertion injuries comes from a team at the University of Connecticut that examined Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) data on severe work injuries. They discovered that heat-related cases were responsible for 92 percent of exertional injuries and 88 percent of exertion-related fatalities between 2015 and 2020. While we’ve always understood that working in the heat without frequent cool-down breaks can cause heat-related illnesses, the link between high temps and other types of injuries is new.
Common exertional injuries we now know can be more frequent when working outdoors in the heat include:
- Musculoskeletal injuries. Sprains, strains, fractures, repetitive motion injuries, and back injuries are among the most common workplace injuries, especially in people who do strenuous physical labor. Working in the heat can increase the risk of these injuries because heat causes workers to tire out more quickly, become dehydrated, and lose mental focus.
- Overexertion. Overexertion injuries result from pushing the body beyond its physical limits or performing tasks with excessive force. These injuries can include muscle strains, sprains, exhaustion, and cardiovascular issues. In high temperatures, exertion turns to overexertion much more quickly than in mild conditions.
- Cardiovascular events. Strenuous physical exertion can trigger cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or strokes, particularly in individuals with pre-existing conditions or risk factors. Summer heat puts more strain on outdoor workers and increases the risk of heart attack in some people.
- Fatigue-related injuries. Fatigue-related injuries occur when workers become excessively tired, impairing their alertness and cognitive functions. Fatigue can lead to slower reaction times, impaired judgment, and increased risk of accidents, including falls, trips, or machinery-related incidents. Workers become fatigued much more quickly in the heat, even in temperatures that are not extreme.
- Heat-related illnesses. Heat-related illnesses are also still a concern when working outdoors in the summer. They occur due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures and inadequate hydration. They can range from heat cramps and heat exhaustion to life-threatening heat stroke.
It's important for employers to focus on workplace safety, encourage rest breaks, and provide water and cooling stations in the summer. For their own protection, workers should be mindful of the heat and report any signs of discomfort or pain to their supervisors. However, no matter why the injury occurred, if you were hurt at work, you are entitled to workers’ compensation in Ohio.
Workers at High Risk of Heat-Related Illness and Injury
Any worker who spends time outdoors in the summer could suffer a heat-related injury, but workers in physically demanding outdoor jobs are at the highest risk. These include men and women who work in:
- Construction. Construction workers who perform tasks such as roofing, roadwork, landscaping, or heavy labor in direct sunlight are vulnerable to heat-related injuries.
- Agriculture. Farm workers, including those involved in crop harvesting, field maintenance, or animal care, often work in hot and humid environments for extended periods.
- Utility work. Electricians, line workers, and other utility workers who perform maintenance or repairs outdoors, often at elevated heights or in confined spaces, face increased heat exposure.
- Landscaping. Workers who do lawn maintenance, tree trimming, or landscaping activities are exposed to the sun's heat while performing physically demanding tasks.
- Outdoor events. Workers who set up or manage outdoor events, such as concerts, festivals, or sporting events, are at risk due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures and a potential lack of shade.
- Road construction. Workers involved in road construction, maintenance, or repair projects are exposed to heat from asphalt and surrounding surfaces.
- Roofing. Roofing contractors and workers who install or repair roofs face direct exposure to the sun's heat and the elevated temperatures of the roofing materials.
- Postal and delivery work. Workers who spend significant time outdoors delivering mail or packages, such as postal workers and package delivery drivers, may be at risk of heat-related injuries due to prolonged exposure to the sun and physically demanding tasks.
- Emergency response. Firefighters, paramedics, and other emergency responders who operate in outdoor environments face heat-related injury risks while wearing protective gear and performing physically demanding tasks in high-stress situations.
- Outdoor recreation. Workers in outdoor recreational facilities, amusement parks, campgrounds, or hospitality venues experience extended exposure to outdoor conditions while engaging in physically demanding activities or attending to guests' needs.
As long as these workers are regular employees and not independent contractors, their heat-related injuries should be covered by Ohio workers’ comp.