Turning up the Heat on the Risks for Outdoor Workers Print
Written by Philip Marchion   
Saturday, 14 July 2012 15:47

Harry Truman is often quoted with his now famous phrase, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”  Of course, his reference to heat was pressure and scrutiny.  But the real heat of kitchen workers who work with stoves and ovens and hot food in 100 degree indoor climate is matched and multiplied by outdoor workers, where heat and sunlight combine for serious health concerns. Particularly in Florida, where both winter and summer can be hot and sunny, outdoor laborers such as landscapers and construction workers face significant medical issues.  The fact is, direct exposure to heat and sunlight poses serious health hazards.  

Medical professionals who are seeing a rise in heat-related cases can – and should – provide advice to patients to reduce the possibility of heat incidence – and to spread the word to their employers as well.  Doctors know all too well that heat stroke, severe sun-burn and dehydration are not minor matters.

Physicians who have seen the effects of significant exposure to the sun’s harmful impact may be able to treat the patients who suffer the consequences of being outdoors virtually all day.  But there’s another saying:  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Doctors are well-advised to make sure employers are aware of the risks, and signs associated with heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  There are steps that can be taken to help protect employees.  And workers themselves must be vigilant and guard themselves.  

a)     First of all, a rotation of workers can minimize the exposure.  Shorten shifts and make sure there are shaded areas or indoor options for breaks.  Limit time in the worst heat – use non-bankers hours for outdoor workers.  Early morning or evening hours can be much less oppressive and also more productive. 

b)    Maintain hydration.  The basic rule of making plentiful water available cannot be stressed enough.   Doctors must stress how vital this is. 

c)     Protection is key.  Keep eyes and skin covered.  Encourage the use of sunglasses, wide-brim hats, and lightweight long-sleeved shirts.  Skin cancer is not fun.  Sunblock should be applied frequently. 

d)    Be aware of others.   Tell colleagues to look around, check for red skin, unsteadiness, or more serious implications such as lack of coherence, extreme and profuse perspiration (well passed usual sweat). 

e)     Be self-aware.  Doctors must tell workers how to be self-aware – what some of the symptoms are that they might ignore and shouldn’t such as unexpected irritability, wooziness, exhaustion, burning sensations.

f)     Be educated.  Learn the early signs of heat exhaustion, dehydration and skin cancer.  Early detection can prevent the situation from becoming serious.

Although the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) has not enacted a specific standard focusing solely on employer responsibility where workers are exposed to heat- and sun-related hazards, primary care doctors may want to offer important wisdom before they see a rise in health issues caused by heat and sunlight.     

Doctors in Florida may deal with heat issues year ‘round but despite the perception to the contrary, this state does have seasons – and the heat is worse in the summer.  Doctors who recognize this and keep their patients aware of the right precautions are providing a great benefit – their continued good health. 

Philip Marchion is an attorney with the Fort Lauderdale office of employment law firm Fisher & Phillips.  He can be reached at (954) 847-4723 or www.laborlawyers.com
Last Updated on Saturday, 14 July 2012 15:56