Workplace Heat Stress, Part 2: Heat-Related Accidents

Heat-related illness isn’t the only danger you face during a hot Georgia summer. Extreme heat affects you physically and mentally and can be the precursor to workplace accidents and serious injury. Read on to learn about the effects hot days can have on worker performance.

Hot Weather Increases the Rate of Workplace Accidents

If it’s hot out, you’re almost 10% more likely to make a workplace mistake that leads to injury, according to the analysis of two decades’ worth of data collected from Spain. A study of American workers with outdoor jobs found a similar correlation between workplace injury and extreme heat, with a scary addendum; when the temperature soared above 100, that increase was 30%.

This danger, on top of the risk of heat-related illnesses, may increase as heat waves continue to raise summer temperatures in Georgia. OSHA requires your employer to provide a workplace free of “known health and safety hazards,” a broad umbrella that includes the effects of extreme weather. Employers should take the following into account when considering workplace safety.

High Temperatures Affect Brain Function

You may have noticed that you’re more productive in a cool office. That’s not just your imagination: our brain function declines once heat starts to reach uncomfortable levels. In fact, in an Australian study, drivers missed 50% more signals when driving in 80-degree temperatures versus 70-degree temperatures. Researchers also observed an increase in response times. These factors could easily lead to higher rates of car accidents. The same is true of workplace accidents.

Studies have found that high temperatures affect skills including:

  • Attention
  • Mathematical or logical reasoning
  • Reaction time

When working with heavy or otherwise dangerous equipment, a lapse in attention can cause serious injury. The same goes for reaction time—workers may not be able to intervene between the time they notice a potential threat and the time the accident occurs. Adjustment to workplace schedules and operations or worker behavior can help combat this increased risk, but employees cannot be expected to make those changes on their own.

Can’t I Just Work Through It?

Aside from affecting our brain function, extreme heat can be distracting—and it’s hard to ignore things like an accumulation of sweat that makes you itch, or clothes that stick to your skin due to sweat. Distractions like these can cause an accident, no matter how brief. If a certain part of your work area is unreasonably hot, any tasks that must be performed in that area may be rushed, with workers failing to complete them or making mistakes. Problems may pop up on the spot or down the line when other dependent systems interact with the faulty job.

Sweatiness caused by high temperatures can also endanger workers who must operate or use equipment that’s hard to grip. Trying to turn a metal lever or climb a piece of scaffolding when your hands are sweaty is much harder than doing the same when your hands are dry. Workplaces must accommodate this kind of hardship caused by hot weather to ensure employee safety.

Accidents Related to Untreated Heat-Related Illness

Illnesses like heat stroke and heat exhaustion can, if untreated, cause symptoms that may contribute to workplace mishaps. Hot and dehydrated workers often become dizzy, confused, or even lose consciousness. These conditions may lead to misuse of, or loss of control over, equipment. Depending on employee sector and responsibilities, one accident could endanger many people.

You Have the Right to a Safe Workplace

Your employer can’t control extreme heat, but they have total control over your workspace. All employees must have access to shady resting spots and water, and special processes or training should be put in place to account for heat-related hazards. Industries that rely on hard physical labor and/or outdoor work, such as agriculture and construction, are especially at risk during heat waves. If you’ve been injured because your employer didn’t take the time to address heat-related risks, our team is here to help.

Injuries that happen on the job can have long-term effects. Come back next Wednesday, 9/25, to learn about the lasting damage that untreated heat-related illness can cause.

Call the Law Offices of Nathaniel F. Hansford, LLC today at (770) 629-9321 or contact us online if you’ve been injured due to extremely hot working conditions.

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