Thousands of California workers suffer heat-related illnesses each year. While construction workers and other outdoor workers are at the highest risks, your job as a landscaper puts you in harm's way -- especially if you are a student taking on landscaping as a summer job. Safety authorities report that a significant percentage of fatalities from heat-related illnesses occur within the first three days of starting a job, and of those cases, more than one in three workers die on day one.
Although your safety is your employer's responsibility, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides a Heat Safety Tool app that workers can download onto their Android devices or iPhones for their own protection. The app can help you to calculate the heat index and warn you when risk levels rise.
What is a heat acclimatization plan?
As a new worker, gradually getting used to outdoor heat is crucial, and your employer can institute an acclimatization plan to achieve that. If you have not worked in outdoor temperatures during the previous week, you will be more vulnerable than other workers who are familiar with the circumstances. Gradual exposure will allow your body to adjust.
What to expect from your employer
Safety authorities prescribe strict standards with which employers must comply to protect you and your co-workers from heat-related illnesses. Your rights to safety include the following:
- You must have access to air-conditioned or shaded areas where you can cool down. Your employer must encourage workers to take frequent breaks.
- Your boss must also provide fresh water or electrolyte-containing sports drinks and encourage you to drink at least eight ounces in 15-minute intervals to replace the fluids lost through prolonged, excessive sweating.
- Personal protective equipment forms a part of the safety protocols, and your employer might provide air- or water-cooled garments, ice-packet vests, heat-reflective suits or aprons, wetted over-garments and hats.
- It is crucial for you to learn to recognize the symptoms and signs of heat illness, which include headache, dizziness, sweaty skin, cramps, nausea, vomiting, fast heartbeat and weakness.
- Your boss would be wise to institute a buddy system by which you and your coworkers can watch each other and notify supervisors or emergency services upon the first signs of heat illness.
- Disregarding the early telltale signs can cause the condition to quickly deteriorate into heatstroke, which could be fatal. When this happens, you might develop hot, red and dry skin, convulsions, confusion and fainting, all of which should trigger emergency treatment.
- Your employer must ensure that all employees know what to do if emergencies should occur when no supervisors are close by to take the necessary action.
How will you cope if you suffer a heat illness?
Dealing with an occupational illness and lost workdays before you are even familiar with your new job could be overwhelming. You might have questions about your eligibility for insurance benefits. An attorney who has experience in assisting injured California workers in obtaining workers' compensation benefits can answer your questions, explain your rights and assist with the navigation of the benefits claims process.