Heat stress: A real challenge for everyday workers

Workers' compensation insurance is there to protect people who are hurt on the job. Workers' compensation kicks in when you have to go to the hospital or see your doctor for an injury that develops because of your job.

With many workers active in places where the environment can take a toll, an interesting thing to consider is how climate changes are affecting workers every day. Most people understand that when temperatures are rising, workers are at risk of heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses.

Take, for example, the story of a man who suffered heat stroke and renal failure as a result of unloading heavy boxes in a UPS truck. Heat stress can quickly become fatal; that man was very lucky to survive.

High temperatures pose a number of threats. Extreme heat can cause organ failure, heat stroke, dehydration, confusion and fatigue. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), has long recommended that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) should set standards to prevent heat stress and to make sure employers are held responsible. Presently, there are no such standards.

How does climate change play a role in heat stress?

For workers, temperatures that keep rising put them at a higher risk of falling ill as a result of heat. In certain industries, temperatures that are 10 degrees warmer than normal, for instance, may be so high that it is difficult to bear while working a strenuous job. With the pressure from some jobs, workers aren't taking the breaks they need, either. This leads to exhaustion, mistakes and injuries or fatalities.

If you're hurt on the job, remember your rights. You can seek medical help, and should, right away.

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