Workers who are exposed to extreme temperatures on the job have a higher risk of injuries and chronic health problems. Exposure to prolonged periods of heat and cold account for thousands of work-related injuries each year.
OSHA Safety Regulations
According to the Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), temperature-related injuries account for over 4,000 work-related injury claims filed by a workers comp lawyer every year. OSHA safety regulations require that all employers provide a safe work environment for employees, including employees who have indoor or outdoor jobs that expose them to extreme temperature conditions on a regular basis. Some of the workers at highest risk for heat and cold exposure include roadway workers, construction workers, landscapers, outdoor recreation workers, bakers and cooks, meat packers, and fishermen.
Injuries from Extreme Temperatures
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prolonged exposure to extreme heat and cold is linked to numerous traumatic injuries, even death, especially in workers who are over the age of 55, overweight, physically unfit, have certain health conditions, or on certain medications for existing health conditions. Common injuries and health risks from excessive heat and cold exposure include:
- Heat Exhaustion – Heat exhaustion can occur when the body loses too much water and salt. Symptoms include dizziness and weakness and can lead to heat stroke.
- Heat Stroke – Heat stroke can lead to permanent disability and death. It accounts for the most serious heat-related injury seen in workers compensation claims.
- Rhabdomyolysis – Prolonged physical exertion in high temperatures can result in the rapid breakdown and death of muscle tissue, causing irregular heartbeats, seizures, and kidney damage.
- Frostbite – When frostbite occurs, deep layers of skin tissue harden and freeze. Frostbite typically affects the feet, toes, hands, fingers, nose, and ears.
- Hypothermia – Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It can cause uncontrollable shivering, drowsiness, confusion, slurred speech, unconsciousness, and heart failure.
OSHA recommends protective clothing to protect workers who are exposed to extreme temperatures, as well as hazardous chemicals as part of their job. In addition to extreme heat and cold, wind chill and wetness or dampness can increase the risks for injuries. In extreme cold, these factors can quickly escalate hypothermia, even in temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold temperatures force the body’s internal organs to work harder to maintain body heat, which can lead to circulatory and heart problems.