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Hot work health problems for New Jersey employees

In cold working conditions, you can add layers of clothing to warm up. In hot environments, clothing changes often aren't enough to stay cool. Prolonged heat exposure at Bergen County factories, foundries, restaurant kitchens and outdoor construction sites places workers at risk of becoming seriously ill.

Elevated temperatures are one source of heat-related health problems. Heat exposure also occurs as a result of arduous physical work, high humidity, radiant heat sources and contact with objects that are hot.

Heat injuries range from itchy heat rashes to steam burns to life-threatening heat strokes. Harm can be avoided when employers take responsibility for maintaining safe job environments. Mining, laundry, boiler room and other "hot work" employees frequently are not trained to recognize, prevent and respond properly to personal or co-workers' heat exposure symptoms.

It helps to understand how the body's cooling system works in high temperatures. Excessive heat builds up in the body when internal regulators break down. Heated air, near or above the body's regular temperature, prevents blood from cooling down as it is pumped to the skin -- as a result, we sweat.

Cooling takes place when sweat evaporates – that is, if sweat CAN evaporate. Add high humidity to high heat and sweating becomes impossible. The body temperature and heart rate rise in response causing concentration difficulties, dizziness and other symptoms that can lead to death.

Indoor environments can be controlled and cooled. Workers can be directed to hydrate and rest frequently. New employees and workers returning to hot workplaces need time to adapt gradually to environments.

Workers' lives can depend upon how quickly an injury is treated. Safety measures work best when every employee knows what to do. That doesn't happen without planning, training and effort on the part of an employer.

Heat-injured employees' medical costs and wage losses are covered under workers' compensation insurance. Attorneys help workers file claims and resolve problems.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Heat Exposure" Jan. 07, 2015

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