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Workplace safety: How hot is too hot?

On Behalf of | Jul 18, 2023 | Injury Prevention

It turns out the old saying holds true: it’s not just the heat, it’s the humidity. Humidity plays a significant role in how our bodies tolerate heat. A mixture of high heat and humidity can be especially dangerous for those with physically demanding jobs — but how hot is too hot? A recent publication by Scientific American dug into this question, and the results are concerning.

The researchers gathered data by having participants swallow a small telemetry pill to monitor their core temperatures. The group found the typical young and healthy body begins to overheat at a temperature of 88 degrees Fahrenheit and 100% humidity or a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 60% humidity. It is important to note the researchers gathered these measurements when the participants were doing nothing more strenuous than walking and eating.

The reason the findings are concerning is because the temperatures are far lower than previously thought. Back in 2010, researchers thought that the human body could likely continue to function normally at temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit and 100% humidity or 115 degrees Fahrenheit and 50% humidity. The reality of a much lower threshold combined with an increased rate of heat waves and high temperatures has led to concern about the impact of work in high temperatures.

Why is overheating dangerous?

As the body overheats, the heart must work harder to get blood through the body to the skin to help release excess heat. This also leads to increased sweat production. These two actions can stress the heart and other organs while also increasing the risk of dehydration.

In addition to an increased risk of heat stress, heat stroke, and other heat related illnesses those who work in the heat are also at an increased risk of occupational injury from accidents that could result from slippery palms, foggy eyewear, and even confusion.

How can we reduce the risk of work-related heat injuries?

A handful of states have laws in place to help address the concern about continued work requirements in high temperatures. California is one of them. California law requires additional precautions when temperatures reach over 95 degrees Fahrenheit. These include:

  • Frequent water breaks and rests to cool-down.
  • Regular observation of workers for signs of heat related illness.
  • Meetings to share information about heat procedures.

Unfortunately, even when these precautions are taken accidents can happen. Those who are injured while on-the-job due to high heat likely qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. Most people are unsure what to do after this type of injury. Legal counsel experienced in workers’ comp claims can review your situation and provide guidance to better ensure you get your entitled benefits.