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Heat Stress a Real Danger to Offshore Workers

Offshore workers face many challenges due to environmental conditions; one of the less frequently discussed hazards is heat stress. When working on a ship or rig, direct sunlight can strike metal surfaces with little or no shade to offer relief, causing the structure’s temperatures to rise dramatically. If proper precautions aren’t taken to protect employees, injuries are more likely to occur.

A person’s body is designed to cool itself by circulating blood to the skin and releasing sweat. When environmental temperatures are close to or even hotter than normal body temperature, these cooling processes don’t work as effectively. Blood circulated to the skin doesn’t lose its heat; sweating still occurs, but can cause dangerous chemical imbalances if the salt and fluid lost isn’t replaced in a timely fashion. When the body can’t cool down, heat is stored, causing a person’s temperature and heart rate to increase. If the rise in temperature continues unchecked, a person can faint and possibly even die if cooling measures aren’t taken. For this reason, offshore workers are particularly at risk. Shifts are often long; employees stand under the direct sun with no shade or air conditioning. Worse still, because of the nature of many offshore jobs, workers are often required to wear heavy protective gear, which traps heat and raises body temperature at an accelerated rate. All of these factors drastically increase an individual’s chances of suffering from heat-related illnesses.

In order to protect workers from dangerously hot conditions, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed work guidelines to combat heat-related illnesses. This plan includes but is not limited to taking the following steps:

  • Employers must keep drinking water close to work areas, and encourage employees to frequently drink small amounts.
  • Employees that are not yet used to working in hot conditions should be allowed to take more frequent breaks, or be given lighter workloads, at least for the first week after being put to work in the heat.
  • Employers should create work/rest (http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/work_rest_schedules.html) schedules that allow employees to evenly distribute their workload over the course of a day. In order to provide workers with the best protection, rest cycles should take place in a cool place, like an air conditioned room or a fully shaded location. Employees can still work during “rest" periods, so long as they are not performing heavy labor or standing in the sun.
  • Employers should have a working emergency plan in place that specifies how to react when an employee shows signs of heat-related illness. The plan should ensure that medical services are available if needed.

When employers do not take the appropriate actions to protect their employees from heat stress and other related conditions, they create a very dangerous working environment. If you or a loved one has suffered an illness or injury while working offshore as a result of heat stress, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact an offshore injury attorney (https://www.offshoreinjuryfirm.com/) from Arnold & Itkin today for a free and confidential consultation.

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