The month of June is National Safety Month, and in Bakersfield, we know June as the start of triple digit weather forecasts and stocking up on sunscreen.
For those working outdoors in Kern County, June and the summer months are also a time protection from the California sun, and adverse air quality. In fact, more injuries occur during the summer months in workplaces than at other times of the year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The industry sector experiencing the largest number of preventable fatal injuries is construction, followed by transportation and warehousing. Agriculture, forestry, transportation and warehousing sectors experience the highest fatality rates per 100,000 workers, according to the bureau. Taking preventative action can spare workers needless pain and suffering. For example, high temperatures can be dangerous to people at work and can lead to injuries, illnesses, and even death, the majority of which are preventable.
Read ahead to learn more about common threats to workers in the summer months, and how to prevent injuries.
Working in the heat
Every year, many workers become sick from occupational heat exposure, and some are fatally injured. These illnesses and fatalities are preventable.
Many people are exposed to heat on the job, in both indoor and outdoor environments. Operations involving high air temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects, or strenuous physical activities have a high potential for causing heat-related illness.
Indoor workplaces with hot conditions may include iron and steel foundries, brick-firing and ceramic plants, glass products facilities, electrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms), bakeries, commercial kitchens, laundries, chemical plants, material handling and distribution warehouses, and many other environments. Outdoor workplaces with work in hot weather and direct sun, such as farm work, construction, oil and gas well operations, landscaping, emergency response operations, and hazardous waste site activities, also increase the risk of heat-related illness in exposed workers.
When a person works in a hot environment, the body must get rid of excess heat to maintain a stable internal temperature through sweating. When the air temperature is close to or warmer than normal body temperature, cooling of the body becomes more difficult. If the body cannot get rid of excess heat, it will store it. When this happens, the body’s core temperature rises and the heart rate increases. If the person is not cooled down, fainting and even death could result.
Excessive exposure to heat can cause a range of heat-related illnesses, from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke can result in death and requires immediate medical attention. Exposure to heat can also increase the risk of injuries because of sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness, and burns from hot surfaces or steam.
Workers exposed to hot indoor environments or hot and humid conditions outdoors are at risk of heat-related illness, especially those doing heavy work tasks or using bulky or non-breathable protective clothing and equipment. Some workers might be at greater risk than others if they have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions, or if they have certain health conditions.
Heat-related illnesses can be prevented. Important ways to reduce heat exposure and the risk of heat-related illness include air conditioning and ventilation and work practices such as work-rest cycles, and staying hydrated. Employers should include these prevention steps in worksite training and plans. Also, it’s important to know and look out for the symptoms of heat-related illness in yourself and others during hot weather. Plan for an emergency and know what to do because acting quickly can save lives.
Air Quality & Valley Fever
Although not all workers who deal with the summer heat work outdoors, those who work outdoors are susceptible to many factors contributed to by bad air quality. The workers in the fields have to be especially mindful of the side effects of the air they are breathing, but anyone outside could get unlucky.
Some illness or infections from breathing in bacteria and pollution are:
- valley fever
- respiratory disease
Valley Fever and respiratory diseases have taken many lives in Kern County. Those at a greater risk of getting valley fever and respiratory disease are workers in the fields. At any given month, workers have to contend with dust storms and breathing in soil ridden amounts of air.
What is valley fever? According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, valley fever — scientifically called coccidioidomycosis — is a fungal infection in the lungs from breathing in spores in the air. The spores are microscopic fungi found in soil and it cannot be passed from person to person. The initial state of coccidioidomycosis can cause these symptoms that make it hard to diagnose:
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Shortness of breath
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches or joint pain
- Rash on upper body or legs
According to the Kern County Public Health Services Department, 2937 cases of Valley Fever were reported last year. However, it unknown how many cases go unreported because the symptoms are similar to the common cold. It is advised to be aware of these symptoms because this initial state could worsen into acute and chronic coccidioidomycosis. These stages can then lead to missing months of work or death.
The Environmental Health News stated that 23,634 deaths occurred between 2013-2016 in Kern Country from Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease (CLRD). Included in these diseases are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, occupational lung diseases and pulmonary hypertension. There are no cures for these diseases, but treatment can prevent them from worsening.
Workers have to be careful and knowing of these illnesses in order to recognize the symptoms and seek immediate medical care if the symptoms listed above persist.
Lastly, workers can take a safety pledge to never compromise their own safety or the safety of co-workers to get the job done, actively look for hazards, promptly report them, and take appropriate action to warn others.
— Alexa Esparza contributed to this report.
If you or someone you know is injured at work or becomes ill due to work condition, please contact the personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.