Earlier this summer, this blog discussed a growing hazard for workers in Illinois and around the country. That hazard is heat, and it’s bound to get worse.
This was the third hottest summer in U.S. history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That put a lot of workers at risk for heat exposure, including heatstroke and death.
You can imagine all sorts of workers who have to contend with heat on the job. Roofers, landscapers, agriculture workers, postal carriers – anyone who works outside. It may surprise you to learn that two of the top jobs for heat danger are UPS warehouse worker and UPS driver.
UPS employs nearly 350,000 people in the U.S. Most of those workers are in warehouses or out in big brown trucks delivering packages. And almost none of them have access to air conditioning.
The warehouses aren’t air conditioned, and it gets stifling. The trucks also lack AC, and that puts drivers at the mercy of the elements. Posted photos show the trucks reaching 121 degrees Fahrenheit.
The workers and their union leadership say that people are getting sick, getting hospitalized and even dying as a result of heat. According to OSHA records, there have been 270 reports since 2015 of UPS and United States Postal Service workers getting sick from the heat. Dozens more reports come from other delivery companies. Many of those cases involved hospitalization.
Worse, the union representing UPS drivers, Teamsters for a Democratic Union, says that heat-related illnesses are underreported.
What is being done to help?
The union is negotiating a new contract that focuses on mitigating heat stress. It wants new, cooler uniforms, fans in every truck, and a consistent supply of water, ice and cooling neck towels.
UPS has already begun providing some accommodations, which could be required by law. Earlier this summer, the company began to distribute new, cooler uniforms. It planned to make ice, water, water-heavy fruits and electrolyte-replacement beverages more readily available.
Heat-related illnesses are covered by workers’ compensation
If you are sickened by heat at work, you are almost certainly covered by workers’ comp in Illinois. This does not depend on proof that your employer didn’t provide a safe work environment. It also does not depend on your having taken breaks or drunk sufficient water. Fault is generally not an issue.
Workers’ comp covers bills for medical treatment, including both emergency and ongoing treatment. It replaces some of your lost wages if you can’t work due to your illness. It provides disability benefits if you become fully or partly disabled due to the illness. Finally, it offers death benefits to families who lose a loved one to a work-related cause.