Archive for June, 2024

Workers Face Higher Injury Risks in Excessive Heat

Construction workers working under the hot sun.

Workplace safety is a critical concern for employers and employees alike. A recent study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) has shed light on a leading risk factor in work-related injuries and illnesses: rising temperatures. Researchers compiled data and weather information from 24 states between 2016 and 2021. They discovered a clear link between higher outdoor temperatures and an increased likelihood of work-related injuries.

How does excessive heat lead to work injuries and illnesses?

According to the WCRI study, when the daily high temperature reaches 85-90°F, the chance of a worker sustaining an injury is 4.3% greater compared to days when temperatures are between 65-70°F. This risk continues to rise as temperatures climb, with a 5.3% greater chance of injury when the daily high is 90-95°F and a 6% greater chance when temperatures soar to 95°F or above.

The study also found that excessive heat has a more significant impact on traumatic injuries, such as fractures, dislocations, contusions, and lacerations.

Who is the most at risk for work injuries from excessive heat?

The construction industry is particularly vulnerable to the effects of excessive heat on worker safety. The WCRI study found that when the daily high temperature reaches 90-95°F, construction workers face a 14% higher chance of injury compared to days with temperatures between 65-70°F. This risk escalates to a striking 20% greater likelihood of injury when the daily high temperature climbs to 95-100°F.

The study also revealed regional variations in the impact of high temperatures on workplace injuries. In the South—where hot weather is more prevalent—workers exhibited a higher risk of injury under elevated temperatures.

Surprisingly, the Northeast also experienced an 8% rise in injuries when the daily high temperature reached 90-100°F compared to days with temperatures between 65-70°F.

What are common heat-related injuries at work?

Common injuries and illnesses at work due to excessive heat include:

  • Heat stroke: This occurs when the body fails to regulate its temperature. Symptoms include high body temperature, confusion, altered mental state, and loss of consciousness. Immediate medical attention is required for this condition.
  • Heat exhaustion: This condition includes heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, headache, and muscle cramps. It often occurs due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures, especially when combined with high humidity and strenuous physical activity.
  • Heat cramps: These are painful, involuntary muscle spasms that usually occur in the abdomen, arms, or legs. They’re often a result of heavy sweating and loss of electrolytes during strenuous activity.
  • Heat rash: This appears as red clusters of small blisters or pimples on the skin, typically in areas where clothing causes friction.
  • Heat syncope: This is a sudden dizziness or fainting episode due to prolonged standing or sudden rising from a sitting or lying position in a hot environment. It is caused by a reduction in blood flow to the brain as blood pools in the legs.
  • Heat edema: This is swelling of the hands, feet, and ankles that can occur when working in a hot environment. It’s typically caused by the body’s adaptation to heat, which includes the dilation of blood vessels and increased fluid retention.

What should employers do to prevent heat-related work injuries?

Employers should prioritize the development and implementation of heat safety protocols, including providing adequate hydration, rest breaks, and shade or cooling areas for workers. Policymakers should consider the implications of rising temperatures on worker safety and explore potential regulations or guidelines to mitigate the risk of heat-related injuries. Further research and data collection are necessary to better understand the issue and inform evidence-based decision-making.

Get the benefits you deserve after a work-related heat injury

If you have suffered a work-related injury due to excessive heat exposure, it’s important to seek help from an experienced workers’ compensation attorney at the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl. With nearly 100 years of combined experience handling workers’ compensation cases in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, we understand the system and can help you obtain the benefits you deserve.

We believe every hard-working person deserves full and fair compensation for workplace injuries. We’re committed to providing personalized legal support tailored to your unique needs. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and learn how we can help you.

CPWR Reports Trenching and Excavation Deaths Rose 160% in 2022

A construction worker is seen from behind, working in a trench on a city street. He is operating a large excavator, guiding its bucket as it digs into the ground.

The number of workers killed in trenching and excavation accidents nearly tripled from 15 in 2021 to 39 in 2022. A new report from The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) sheds light on this tragic trend. It examines data on fatal and nonfatal injuries as well as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforcement of trenching standards.

The findings shed light on the importance of the annual Trench Safety Stand Down in promoting safe work practices to protect workers from preventable trench collapses and other hazards.

How common are trenching and excavation accidents?

Construction workers face a disproportionate risk of trenching and excavation accidents, with the industry accounting for a staggering share of both fatal and nonfatal injuries:

  • From 2011 to 2021, construction workers made up 85% of all fatal trenching injuries.
  • Similarly, 90% of nonfatal trenching injuries from 2011 to 2022 occurred in the construction industry.
  • In 2022, Hispanic workers were particularly impacted and comprised more than a third of all trenching and excavation fatalities.

Nonfatal trenching injuries in construction have fluctuated over the past decade:

  • Injuries decreased by 42.9% from 2011-2012 to 2021-2022.
  • The injury rate also declined by 57.1% during this period.
  • However, a peak occurred in 2013-2014, with 600 nonfatal injuries.
  • From 2021-2022, there were 200 nonfatal trenching injuries in construction.

How do trenching and excavation accidents happen?

Common causes of trenching and excavation accidents include:

  • Cave-ins: These occur when the walls of a trench collapse due to a lack of proper shoring or support systems.
  • Falls: Workers can fall into trenches or excavation sites if protective barriers and proper signage are not in place.
  • Falling loads: Materials or equipment falling into the trench can strike and injure workers below.
  • Hazardous atmospheres: The accumulation of toxic gases or the lack of oxygen in trenches can pose serious health risks to workers.
  • Utility line strikes: Excavation can unintentionally damage underground utilities such as gas lines, leading to explosions or other hazardous conditions.
  • Equipment accidents: Heavy machinery used in excavation can malfunction or be improperly operated.
  • Flooding: Water accumulation from rain or broken pipes can lead to trench instability and drowning hazards.

What is OSHA’s enforcement of trenching standards?

OSHA has taken an active role in enforcing trenching safety standards. Trenching and excavation violations account for a significant portion of citations and penalties in the construction industry:

  • In 2023, trenching violations comprised 9% of all penalties and 4% of all citations issued in construction.
  • From 2011 to 2023, the average annual number of trenching citations was 2,200, representing 2.8% to 3.9% of all construction citations.
  • After OSHA launched its National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation in 2018, trenching citations increased by 36.8% in 2019.

The heavy and civil engineering construction subsector has been particularly impacted by OSHA enforcement:

  • Between 2011 and 2023, 52% of trenching citations were issued to employers in this subsector.
  • In comparison, only 8.1% of all construction citations during this period were issued to heavy and civil engineering construction firms.

The most frequently cited specific trenching standards include:

  • Protections of employees in excavations (1926.652 A): 34.5% of trenching citations
  • Specific excavation requirements; Inspections (1926.651 K): 17.1% of trenching citations
  • Specific excavation requirements access and egress (1926.651 C): 16.8% of trenching citations

Trench Safety Stand Down raises awareness of trenching and excavation hazards

The Trench Safety Stand Down is an annual event in June that protects workers from trenching and excavation hazards. This year, it took on added significance in light of the alarming increase in trenching fatalities. The stand-down allows employers, supervisors, and workers to pause work and review best practices, safety protocols, and company policies related to trenching operations. This event aims to raise awareness of trench safety and foster a culture of prevention.

Get the workers’ comp benefits you deserve after a trenching or excavation accident

If you sustained injuries in a trenching accident or any other workplace incident in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, getting these benefits isn’t an easy process. It’s important to seek legal help from an experienced workers’ comp attorney to maximize your chances of getting compensated.

The attorneys at The Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl are ready to protect your rights as an injured worker. With our extensive knowledge of work comp law and OSHA regulations, we provide compassionate legal support and advocacy to help you secure the benefits and compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help you.