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Illinois summer heat and outdoor workers can be a dangerous mix

Illinoisans are no strangers to extreme weather, enduring risky outdoor conditions in the depths of winter and in the heat and humidity of summer. And it’s not getting any better because of the impact of climate change, which is already apparent.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Illinois has warmed about one degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years or so, meaning there will be an increase in the number of days with extreme heat – think 15 to 20 more days higher than 95 degrees in a summer – along with worsening droughts. Air quality degrades with increasing temperatures and more resulting ozone can cause cardiac and lung problems.

The EPA reports further that high outdoor heat can result in dehydration and heatstroke and negatively impact the nervous and cardiovascular systems. (Of course, indoor, year-round jobs at high temperatures are also dangerous in similar ways.)

Other harm from working in outdoor summer conditions may include heat exhaustion, cramping, rash, fainting or loss of consciousness, rhabdomyolysis (muscle injury), sunburn, edema (swelling) and in extreme cases, death.

Protect vulnerable outdoor workers from the heat of an Illinois summer

What this all means for Illinois employees whose jobs are performed completely or partially outdoors during hot summers is that without adequate, regular safety measures, they could be in danger of illness, injury or even death. Outdoor jobs in this category include:

  • Painters
  • Roofers
  • Construction workers (high heat-related fatality rates)
  • Demolition workers
  • Agricultural workers
  • Amusement park workers
  • Landscape and lawn care workers
  • Arborists
  • Lifeguards
  • Utility workers
  • Delivery drivers
  • Law enforcement
  • Firefighters
  • Foresters, conservationists, park rangers, hydrologists
  • Surveyors
  • Dog walkers
  • Sports coaches, recreation therapists and camp counselors
  • Delivery drivers and postal employees
  • Oil and gas production (southern Illinois)
  • And many others

Best practices

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) (at the above link) emphasizes that employers need to train management and other employees (in the languages of those receiving it) so everyone understands how to remain vigilant for heat hazards, recognizes the signs of heat illness and knows what medical care to provide in such cases. The employer should provide necessary medical supplies on site and to shelter required for safety as well as a plan for summoning emergency care, especially in remote areas.

Basic work safety practices include:

  • Keep an eye on new or returning employees because people must acclimate (build tolerance) to hot weather. Start at only 20% of a shift outside and increase the time worked in outdoor heat by only 20% per day.
  • Workers in hot weather need one cup of water every 20 minutes or they will be at risk of dehydration. For jobs lasting two hours or longer, drink liquids with electrolytes like sports drinks.
  • Employees toiling outside at high temperatures need frequent breaks in the shade or in a cool or air-conditioned space.
  • Reduce physical exertion on the worst days.
  • Rotate jobs among workers.
  • Watch for symptoms that might suggest heat-related harm like fainting, confusion, dizziness, slurred speech, thirst, irritability, a spike in body temperature, elevated heart rate, nausea and vomiting, heavy sweating, weakness and others.

File for workers’ compensation

Unfortunately, even despite safety precautions, worker injury and sickness from heat and humidity will still happen to Illinois employees. When it does, the employee should first get medical care, notify their employer and file for workers’ compensation. An experienced Illinois workers’ compensation lawyer can assist with the application and at any level of review and appeal.