Heat Stress and Workers' Compensation

Construction workers, utility line workers, delivery drivers, and anyone who works outside in the summer or in a hot environment can leave you vulnerable to heat stress. What would you do if you were unable to continue to work even if it were just for a limited amount of time? What would you do if you were so sick that you were unable to work for a longer amount of time? Could you pay your rent and buy groceries for your family? If you suffered from heat stress while on the job, you may be entitled to receive benefits from workers’ compensation.

Heat stress can affect any worker who is exposed to hot and humid conditions without adequate protection for too long. It is exacerbated if the worker has not yet become acclimated to these conditions or has long term predisposition to heat stress, because of complications such as previous heart and kidney ailments, diabetes or who have been taking certain medications.

Mild heat stress is mainly treated by removing the employee from the environment which is causing stress. Mild heat stress is relatively easily relieved and would not normally require medical treatment. Continuous conditions of high heat and humidity or excessive workload may lead to a period off work while conditions persist.

If the employee persists in experiencing heat stress without relief, then he/she may experience heatstroke. This is a much more severe form of heat stress which if left untreated can cause organ failure and / or death.

The main costs in heat stress are due to missed wages if the conditions are unsuitable as there is little medical treatment necessary. Heatstroke is another matter altogether and the full cost depends on whether any damage to organs has been done. Ambulance costs, hospital treatment, possible surgery and follow-up treatment may be necessary as well as lost earnings.

How Workers’ Compensation Protects You

Workers’ compensation protects you if you are hurt on the job. Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that is provided by employers for employees. There is no charge for employees. Workers’ compensation is a state law that requires almost every employer to provide this insurance for employees.

Workers’ compensation provides many benefits to workers who qualify because of their on the job injury. You may qualify to receive assistance with medical expenses associated to heat stress. If you’re unable to work and meet the qualifications, you may also receive compensation for partial lost wages. There are other benefits associated with filing a workers’ compensation claim, but the benefits you qualify to receive will be directly related to the severity of your on-the-job injury.

Suffering From Heat Stress on the Job

If you work outside as a construction worker, landscaper, or work on utilities lines, you’re exposed to the elements all throughout the year. In many areas of the United States, the extremely hot summer can cause those who work outside to suffer from heat stress. Heat stress is more commonly known as heat exhaustion.

There are two types of heat stress. Heat stress caused by not drinking enough water can cause you to feel excessively thirsty, weak, cause a headache, and you could even lose consciousness. If you were to lose consciousness on a ladder or roof, you could fall and end up with severe injuries. The other type of heat stress is caused by a loss of sodium. The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.

Heat stress is serious. If it goes untreated, it could cause a heat stroke which could cause permanent injury to your brain and vital organs.

Calculating the Cost of Heat Stress to Claim

Normal heat stress is easily resolved as the employee has only to withdraw from the conditions causing the symptoms. The employee may need to take time off work to recover from more serious heat stress.

A doctor’s visit may be necessary if the symptoms of heat stress do not appear to be relived quickly, e.g. if fainting occurs or disorientation. In cases of possible heatstroke, emergency services should be involved to take the worker to a health center or hospital where they can be examined.

A workers' compensation claim for heat stress / heatstroke should include the following:

  • cost of ambulance if necessary;
  • doctor’s visit(s);
  • cost of hospital treatment if necessary;
  • medication for extreme heat stress and / or heatstroke;
  • lost earnings while recovering from heat stress / stroke.

Heat Stress Workers’ Compensation Settlement

A typical mild case of heat stress wouldn’t really justify a workers’ compensation claim. However, as the severity of the stress experience rises, the likelihood of more serious injury occurs and the final combination of medical treatment and lost earnings would certainly justify a settlement.

The following example is of a timber worker who experiences mild heat stroke and is rushed to hospital for treatment after collapsing. The worker is kept in hospital for observation for 2 days and is off work for a week following discharge.

  • cost of ambulance (remote location) is $1,200
  • cost of hospital stay (2 days) bed and food - $2,300
  • lost earnings component at two thirds of earnings calculated as $12 an hour x 40 hours - $320

Total claim is $3,820

Treating Heat Stress on the Job

If you believe that you’re suffering from heat stress on the job, you need rest and you need to get out of the heat immediately. Tell your supervisor right away and stop working so that you do not continue to dehydrate. Drink plenty of water and cool off. If you’re not feeling better within 15 minutes, you should call 911 because it is a medical emergency.

Consider filing a workers’ compensation claim with your employer. You may be extremely sensitive to high temperatures for several weeks. A doctor should monitor you during this time. Workers’ compensation can provide you with a list of doctors that can treat you at no charge.

Tips for settlement

As with any workers’ compensation claim, the most important steps are to ensure that the period of stress / stroke is properly recorded and notified to the employee’s immediate supervisor. Insurers may doubt that the claim is justified if there is insufficient evidence that the symptoms happened because of the work environment.

Questions About Workers’ Compensation Benefits?

If you have questions about workers’ compensation or its benefits, you should talk with a workers’ compensation attorney. An attorney can answer your questions and help you get the benefits that you deserve for your heat stress.