Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Injuries Caused by Exposure to the Elements?

Jan 9, 2017

Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Injuries Caused by Exposure to the Elements?

Every year, thousands of workers are hospitalized for injuries suffered as a result of exposure to excessive heat or cold. These types of injuries can require thousands of dollars worth of treatment and weeks of rehabilitation, during which the injured party may be unable to work. Fortunately, workers’ compensation covers many injuries caused by exposure, so if you recently suffered an injury as a result of exposure to extreme heat or cold, it is crucial to speak with an experienced Charlotte workers’ compensation attorney who can walk you through the process of filing a claim.

Causes of Heat-Related Injuries

Heat-related injuries are extremely serious and in some cases, can even be deadly. These types of injuries affect certain kinds of employees more than others. For instance, construction workers, who are required to spend much of their time outdoors are more likely to suffer from heat-related injuries than are employees who work in an air conditioned office. Other dangerous outdoor operations include:

  • Roofing;
  • Agricultural work;
  • Landscaping;
  • Farm work;
  • Oil and gas well operations;
  • Asbestos removal;
  • Emergency response operations; and
  • Hazardous waste removal sites.

Although employees who work in direct sunlight for extended periods of time are at-risk of heat stress, they are not the only workers who can suffer from overexposure to heat. For example, workers who are exposed to heat in indoor environments can also experience heat stress-related injuries, especially those who:

  • Work in high air temperatures;
  • Work near radiant heat sources;
  • Work in areas of high humidity;
  • Have direct physical contact with hot objects; and
  • Take part in strenuous physical activities.

Workplaces with these types of conditions include:

  • Iron and steel foundries;
  • Brick-firing and ceramic plants;
  • Glass products facilities;
  • Rubber products factories;
  • Boiler rooms;
  • Bakeries;
  • Commercial kitchens;
  • Laundries;
  • Chemical plants;
  • Mining sites; and
  • Smelters.

Although employees who work in these locations are not guaranteed to suffer from heat stress during their employment, they are at a higher risk of sustaining an injury. Even workers who do not suffer from full-blown heat stroke can still become injured if, due to the confusion or disorientation that so often accompanies dehydration, they slip and fall or drop a heavy tool.

Symptoms and Prevention

Unfortunately, many heat-related injuries are avoidable. For instance, workers who are new to a position that involves exposure to high temperatures and who are unaccustomed to working in the heat for long stretches of time should be given frequent access to water, shade, and rest. To help further prevent injuries, employers can take additional steps, including:

  • Training all employees about what to do when a worker begins to experience heat-induced illness;
  • Requiring supervisors to conduct in-person evaluations of workers who exhibit signs of heat-related illness;
  • Establishing rules that urge employees to seek assistance and a medical evaluation if they are experiencing heat stress symptoms;
  • Reassigning work on cooler days or to the early morning or evening hours;
  • Using protective clothing that provides cooling; and
  • Reducing worker loads on hot days and creating a schedule that includes rest breaks.

Employees who work in outdoor jobs or who are exposed to high temperatures should always keep a look-out for specific symptoms, which include:

  • Headache;
  • Dizziness;
  • Fainting;
  • Weakness;
  • Irritability or confusion;
  • Nausea or vomiting;
  • Seizures;
  • Reduced attention span; and
  • Short term memory loss.

Dehydration and heat stroke are common results of overexposure to heat and if left untreated can have devastating consequences for victims and their family members. In fact, heat illnesses can result in permanent disability as many workers who suffer from heat stroke suffer from seizures for the rest of their lives.

Cold Stress

Although employees who work in the heat are at-risk of suffering from heat stroke, workers who spend long periods of time outdoors in cold environments could also sustain injuries. Workers who are especially vulnerable to cold stress include:

  • Sanitation workers;
  • Police officers;
  • Mail delivery workers;
  • Emergency responders;
  • Snow cleanup crews; and
  • Utility workers.

When in a cold environment, the body must use a lot of energy to keep a person’s internal core temperature elevated. Over time, the body begins to shift blood away from the limbs and outer skin to the body’s core. When body heat begins to be lost faster than it can be replaced, a person may start to suffer from hypothermia or frostbite. Those who are exposed to rain, sweat, or cold water are at even more of a risk of injury. Symptoms of cold stress-related injuries include:

  • Shivering;
  • Loss of coordination;
  • Confusion and disorientation;
  • Dilated pupils;
  • Slowed pulse and breathing;
  • Loss of consciousness;
  • Inability to walk or stand;
  • Reddened skin beginning to develop gray or white patches;
  • Numbness; and
  • Blisters.

Hypothermia can be deadly, so all employers who hire employees that work outdoors should be careful to implement preventive measures and training for emergency situations. For instance, workers suffering from hypothermia or frostbite should receive immediate medical attention, be moved to a warm and dry place, and covered with blankets. Any wet clothing should be removed immediately and replaced with dry clothes or blankets.

Unfortunately, even when employers institute these types of policies and training, workers can still suffer from exposure-related injuries. For this reason, it is especially important for injured employees to receive benefits or a settlement through workers’ compensation. These funds will cover medical expenses, such as emergency treatment, surgeries, doctors’ appointments, and medications. Benefits will also compensate injured workers for lost wages and in some cases, permanent disability.

Contact Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A. Today to Speak With an Experienced Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Exposure to extremely high or low temperatures can have serious repercussions and in some cases, can even leave victims permanently disabled. While workers’ compensation benefits can make all the difference in a person’s ability to recover, completing the filing process can be time-consuming and challenging, so if you were recently injured while on the job and have questions or concerns about obtaining workers’ compensation, please contact the experienced Charlotte workers’ compensation law firm of Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A. by sending us a brief message or initiating a live chat with a member of our dedicated legal team and we’ll help you schedule a free case evaluation.