Keeping cool on the job during the "dog days" of summer

It is important for Minnesota workers to take proper precautions when they are exposed to heat or sun for long periods.

The "dog days" of summer are yet again upon us here in Minnesota. After getting off to a slow start, summer has definitely made itself known, and we are in the midst of some of the warmest temperatures and brightest sun rays of the year. This weather is a very nice break after the long winters we have, but it does have its downsides.

For example, if your work takes you outside in the hot, muggy conditions common across the state now, you could be at risk for sun exposure, skin damage and myriad heat-related illnesses. Other work environments, including construction sites, commercial kitchens, factories and warehouses, also have conditions that could result in heat illnesses at any time of the year, but those risks are magnified when outside temperatures climb.

It is important, if your job exposes you to heat on a regular basis, that you are aware of the risks associated with prolonged heat and that you take proper precautions to prevent yourself from becoming ill.

The conditions that cause heat-related illnesses

While it is true that simply working in a hot environment (indoors or outdoors) can make a worker sick, there are certain other factors that dramatically increase the chances that a heat-related illness like heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat syncope or heat stroke will occur. Your body is designed to sweat in warm conditions; the evaporation of perspiration is a key way your body cools itself and maintains the delicate internal balance necessary for all the systems to work in harmony. Unfortunately, humidity, wearing heavy protective gear that doesn't allow the skin to "breathe" and being in conditions where there is inadequate air circulation can all derail the evaporation process, which could raise your internal temperature to an unsafe point.

Constant sun exposure (without rest breaks in a cool, covered area), in addition to resulting in sunburn, can also lead to heat illnesses, particularly if electrolytes that the body has excreted in sweat aren't adequately replaced by drinking fluids. Because so much fluid is lost through sweat, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends drinking at least one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes when working in hot conditions. This is particularly important if you are new to the job or have been performing different duties that didn't involve being in the heat since it will help your body more easily acclimate to the environmental changes.

No matter what your job, if you work in hot, humid or sunny conditions, it is vitally important that you stay aware of the risks and that you take proper precautions to protect yourself. If you suffer a heat-related illness on the job, you may be entitled to worker's compensation benefits; speak with a Minnesota work comp attorney in your area to learn more about the benefit process.

Keywords: workers' compensation, work comp, heat illness, heat stroke, work injury, injured worker