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Why heat-related work injuries are underreported

On Behalf of | Jul 20, 2021 | Workplace Illness

We all know that summer brings an increased risk of heat-related injuries for anyone who works outdoors. However, a recent study concluded that the number of workplace injuries caused by extreme heat may be “significantly” higher than statistics indicate. Further, these injuries, which are more likely to be suffered by lower-income workers, can be permanently disabling and potentially fatal.

Researchers who studied about 11 million workers’ compensation claims found up to a 9% increase in claims when the temperature got above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and over 15% when it was 95 degrees or above.

Indoor workers can also suffer heat-related injuries

One public policy professor involved in the research testified before a congressional committee this month that’s looking at the climate crisis. He said, “Because many of these injuries are not officially tagged as being caused by heat, official statistics may significantly underestimate the magnitude of heat’s effects.” He noted these include claims “ostensibly unrelated to temperature: things like falling off a ladder or mishandling dangerous machinery.”

Extreme heat doesn’t just affect people who work outdoors in industries like construction and agriculture. The professor testified that when temperatures rise, so do the number of workers’ comp claims “even in many indoor environments, including manufacturing and warehousing, implying that many more workers might be exposed to climate risk than previously understood.”

Should heat protections for workers be required by federal law?

Employers have a duty to keep their workers safe from heat – whether they’re outside or inside. Extreme temperatures call for added precautions. While some states already have laws mandating adequate shade, water and breaks for agricultural workers, the United Farm Workers (UFW) union is pushing to make such requirements federally mandated. 

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury or illness on the job, it’s important to seek the workers’ comp benefits you need to get the medical care you need and to care for your family if you’re unable to work for a time. It’s essential to understand and protect your rights.