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Outdoor workers at risk of fatal heat stroke

During the warm summer months in South Carolina, soaring temperatures can quickly cause heat-related illnesses to occur. A new study has found that for outdoor workers, heat stroke can occur during temperatures that are only in the high 80s.

The study, which was conducted by a team from the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), looked at 25 cases of heat stroke experienced by outdoor workers between 2011 and 2016. Of the 25 cases, 14 resulted in fatalities. Team members found that of the 14 fatalities, six occurred when the heat index was only 91. The heat index is a calculated estimation of how the outdoor temperatures feel to the human body by taking in the factors of both temperature and humidity.

Experts at OSHA caution that the heat waves in early summer can be the most deadly because the body has not acclimated to the increasing temperatures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. People who experience it may develop body temperatures of 106 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit; lose the ability to produce sweat; have red, dry skin; and may appear disoriented and confused. Wearing light-colored clothing, spending time in the shade and staying continually hydrated is critical for outdoor workers in order to prevent heat-related illnesses from occurring.

Employers have the legal responsibility of providing a safe place of work for their employees. This may mean adjusting work hours to cooler mornings, giving workers adequate breaks for hydration and educating employees about the dangers of the heat. An employee who suffered a heat-related illness may be able to receive compensation for medical-related expenses and pain and suffering if the employer was found to be negligent in safety. If a workers' compensation claim is filed, the employee may relinquish his or her rights to file a civil claim. In this case, a lawyer may be able to show evidence that the employer didn't allow employees time to hydrate themselves, resulting in heat-related illness. A civil claim may then be filed in order to help the employee and family members receive compensation.

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  • South Carolina Association for Justice
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