Safety Even When Working in Dangerous Conditions
It is a fact of life there are people who have to work in unsafe conditions. Someone has to repair roofs, operate cranes, and weld while under the water. However, every workplace must have safety standards even when the conditions are inherently unsafe. This summer, there is one workplace hazard that faces many Floridians who work outdoors, and it is the heat.
Florida Heat & Humidity
Florida is the most humid state in the nation. This is because it is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Its geographic location combined with humidity makes the most southern part of the state a tropical climate. Dew points throughout the state are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. They climb to over 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the southernmost portions.
Why does humidity matter? Well, Florida also has high temperatures. They range from an average of 70 degrees to above 90 degrees depending on what part of the state you’re in. The temperature over the years has been rising. This may be because of urban development, where structures absorb heat and decrease nighttime cooling. It may also be because of the minimization of natural wetlands and recent droughts.
When dew points rise, heat becomes difficult to handle. In fact, it can be dangerous when the dew point gets above 60 degrees. The reason heat and humidity are not a good match is because it suppresses the function of sweat. Normally, the body sweats when it gets hot. The evaporation of this sweat is what the body uses to cool itself and regulate temperature. When the air is already moist, the sweat cannot evaporate. Therefore, the body cannot regulate its temperature.
According to the Florida Department of Health, there were approximately 3,800 people visiting the emergency department for heat-related illness each year from 2005 to 2012.
Many Florida Workers Have Heat Safety Hazards
Heat-related illnesses can occur during recreational activities, but many of them occur in the work environment. Those who work in the agriculture industry, firefighters, factory workers, and construction workers are often at risk. It is difficult to regulate industries in regard to heat exposure, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made an effort.
OSHA’s Safety Guide for Employers
OSHA has created a “Water. Rest. Shade.” campaign to protect employees from harsh working conditions in the heat. It recommends using a Heat Index created by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The Heat Index uses temperature and humidity to indicate how hot it will feel to the average individual. The heat index is color-coded to indicate how much precaution should be taken with employees working outdoors or in areas that are not climate-controlled. These precaution levels include: basic safety, implement precautions, additional precautions, and aggressive protective measures.
OSHA then gives additional instruction for employers to abide by in order to protect workers. This includes:
- Adequate water supply
- Increased breaks
- Allowing workers to acclimatize
The instructions include very specific recommendations as well. The employers should encourage employees to drink water instead of soda. They should allow for breaks in a cool and shaded area. In extreme conditions, it is also important that employers keep in contact and monitor employees for signs of heat illness.
Workers’ Compensation vs. Personal Injury
The majority of heat related illnesses suffered at the workplace will fall under the category of workers’ compensation cases. Employers are required by labor laws to keep employees safe from the adverse effects of sun/heat exposure. This includes heat stroke, which can be deadly.
The most common defense against employees seeking workers’ compensation is that a pre-existing condition actually caused the injury. This could be a pre-existing heart condition or something as simple as obesity. Generally, workers’ compensation will provide coverage regardless. The courts believe that improper protection from the heat still exacerbated the effects of the injury regardless of pre-existing conditions. Workers’ compensation is a “no-fault” legal process, so you aren’t going to be hindered by your amount of fault in the injury in many cases.
Generally speaking, it is workers compensation that handles heat illness cases which occur at the workplace. There are some exceptions.
Personal Injury Lawsuits Regarding Heat Injury
The most common personal injury lawsuit related to a workers’ compensation claim is a third-party lawsuit. This could happen when another party besides the employer was also at-fault for your injuries. Maybe the personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by an employer was faulty, or a product made to create shade also created a hot environment. The possibilities are endless, but the point is that a plaintiff directs these third-party lawsuits toward someone other than the employer.
The courts may award damages to a person in a personal injury lawsuit if your employer acted intentionally. A plaintiff may have a difficult time proving this to the court, but it is possible. In a heat injury, it may happen if the employer had a clear heat illness prevention strategy but went against it. He or she would have to have a motive to go against it. That is the easier part, since profits can be very motivating.
Regardless of the opportunity for personal injury lawsuits, most heat illness cases which occur at the workplace are handled by the workers’ compensation carrier. In the rare case of a suitable personal injury case, a plaintiff would have an opportunity to seek damages due to pain and suffering.
Dangerous Conditions Warrant Safety
There are certain situations that are simply going to be dangerous for workers. Agriculture and construction occupations have many of these dangerous conditions because they occur outside and during the hot summer months. Still, other occupations also have dangerous conditions that can be mitigated by safety efforts.
In order to mitigate the dangers inherent in any position, it requires the effort of both the employer and the employee. This means the employee must be aware of safety protocols and where proper equipment is located. It also means the cultural climate in the workplace must be one that is geared toward safety above all else.
A safety-oriented workplace culture must involve employers, as they set the tone for their workers’ attention to safety in many circumstances. Employers must let employees know that safety is their number one priority. Employers who are more focused on profits over safety create an unsafe work environment. This culture rewards those who cut corners and puts others at risk of harm instead of preventing costly errors by abiding by safety standards. It is better for all business goals to adhere to safety standards.
Harm Due To Safety Deserves A Lawyer’s Review
Whether or not your workers’ compensation case warrants a personal injury lawsuit as well is based on the specifics of your case. In either case, you should consult a personal injury lawyer who will make sure that you are getting the compensation you deserve.
Going over the details of the harm you suffered due to unsafe business practices or improper safety precautions is complicated. You may not be able to see the opportunity for compensation or even recognize the entirety of your damages without consulting a lawyer. Dangerous situations due to improper safety precautions aren’t something anyone must accept. There are ways to be compensated for injuries that shouldn’t have happened.
If you’d like to speak to an actual lawyer about the potential for a lawsuit following a workplace injury, contact Kirshner, Groff, and Diaz for a no-obligation consultation.