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Heat exposure in the workplace

As many Texas workers may know, laboring in high heat and humidity might result in injury or death if proper precautions are not taken. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have a specific regulation safeguarding workers from heat exposure, a general duty provision does take note of the responsibility of employers to provide a safe workplace. Citations issued by OSHA may range from a notice to a $70,000 penalty for a willful citation charge.

OSHA reports that many workers have experienced physical injury from the heat. In 2012, 30 workers died due to heat exposure. Some states, including California, Washington and Minnesota, have programs in force that attempt to remedy this situation. Other states rely on general duty provisions in their respective statutes.

Employers are obligated to take steps to help workers avoid workplace injuries due to the heat. It is important to have shaded areas or areas with air conditioning available to employees for break time. Additionally, cool potable water must be made available to workers who are encouraged to drink approximately one cup every 15 minutes. Acclimation is an important factor and workers who are not used to heat exposure on the job should be sensitized gradually to it.

Employers might wish to use OSHA's smartphone app that allows them to calculate heat stress. The app uses humidity, temperature, coverage of sun and clouds, wind speed and the heat index supplied by the National Weather Service. This allows employers to make an effort to protect workers from the effects of heat.

A worker who experiences heat-related injuries on the job may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. Consulting an attorney when this happens may be helpful. Legal counsel can assist in the preparation and filing of the required claim and can also provide representation at a subsequent hearing should the claim be disputed or denied.

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