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Worker with bottle of water helping colleague on city street who is suffering from heat stroke

The summer months may be winding down, but the North Carolina heat will likely carry over into the fall. As extreme weather systems and heat waves continue around the U.S., individuals with jobs that expose them to high temperatures are increasingly at risk of suffering heat-related injuries at work.

North Carolina employers who fail to protect their employees and provide a safe work environment are likely to see an increase in workers’ comp claims as a result of heat illnesses. This means time off work, reduced productivity, and medical treatment to help workers recover. In the worst cases, heat injuries are fatal.

Getting overheated makes the body work overtime to keep cool, especially without sufficient hydration and regular relief from the heat. Because of the risks and dangers of working in high-temperature environments, employees should know their rights and what to do if a heat injury occurs.

Injured workers must file a workers’ compensation claim to access benefits if medical treatment or time off work is required. It can be a complicated process that employers and insurance carriers sometimes make more difficult.

Unfortunately, there aren’t standards that protect workers from heat in North Carolina. But with the help of a North Carolina workers’ comp lawyer, victims of heat-related work injuries can get the support they’re entitled to.

Types of Heat Injuries

The health effects of heat-related work injuries can be minor to life-threatening. There are a few types of heat illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat injury someone may experience. North Carolina workers who have physically demanding jobs, are exposed to high temperatures, and aren’t properly protected from or take steps to manage heat exposure can develop heat cramps. They may be less serious and easier to recover from than other heat illnesses, but they can be very painful. Muscle cramps and spasms from heat can happen to those working indoors or outdoors.

Heat exhaustion is more serious than heat cramps and is caused by the body losing too much water and salt, often from excessive sweating and not drinking enough water to replenish what’s lost. Some of the symptoms of heat exhaustion include weakness, headache, dizziness, nausea, and heavy sweating. Left untreated, this heat-related work injury can progress to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition.

When a North Carolina worker suffers from heat stroke, their body can no longer regulate its temperature. It’s a dangerous heat illness that must be treated as a medical emergency. Signs of heat stroke include confusion, slurred speech, seizures, hot, dry skin or profuse sweating, and a body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit. It can even cause loss of consciousness. Anyone who suspects they or a fellow employee has heat stroke should go to the hospital immediately.

Who’s At Risk of Workplace Heat Injuries in North Carolina?

Technically, anyone could suffer a heat-related illness in certain environments and situations. However, specific industries and types of jobs increase the risk of workers in North Carolina developing heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

People working in agriculture, construction, trucking, and commercial enterprises are the most likely to experience heat injuries on the job. Examples include farmers, roofers, mail delivery workers, gas station attendants, and warehouse workers.

Heat-related workers’ comp claims in North Carolina are made by employees who work outside and indoors in buildings such as warehouses; a lack of air conditioning or poor temperature control creates these workplace dangers.

Employers that don’t allow for regular breaks in cooler settings put employees at unnecessary risk of developing a heat injury, which just leads to more workers’ comp claims. Not to mention, there’s reduced productivity from time off work and as other employees struggle to perform in the heat.

North Carolina Employers Must Protect Workers

While workplace heat injuries can be life-threatening, there aren’t heat-specific regulations that businesses must meet in North Carolina. Advocates, including unions, are pushing for legislation to protect workers from heat illnesses, but none currently exist. However, there are labor laws that employers must adhere to that may be applied when an employee suffers a heat injury. While legal representation isn’t always necessary, a North Carolina workers’ comp attorney can help file this type of claim.  

Employees have rights that protect them from injuries in the workplace. North Carolina employers are legally responsible for providing a safe work environment. This includes proper safety training. Just like there are safety protocols for machinery, workers exposed to high temperatures should be trained to prevent and identify heat-related illnesses.

Employers must also allow workers to take breaks to cool off, prepare for extreme weather, and encourage employees to stay hydrated. Access to drinkable water is essential, too.

A company’s failure to meet general labor standards is bound to face more North Carolina workers’ comp claims as heat injuries become increasingly common amidst rising temperatures.

Why Hire a Workers’ Comp Attorney for Your Heat Injury

Heat stress in the workplace often leads to time off work, even if it’s just a day to recover, but for those who develop heat stroke, hospitalization may be needed due to its seriousness. It’s also possible for heat stroke to cause permanent disability, which workers’ compensation provides benefits. In the worst cases, employees can die from heat stroke, even though this type of workplace injury is typically preventable.

Workers are entitled to benefits under the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act (NCWCA) when injured at work, involved in a work accident, or suffered an occupational disease. It covers medical bills, a portion of lost wages and permanent disability.

North Carolina workers’ compensation operates on a no-fault system, which means it doesn’t matter who’s at fault for the workplace injury. Employers are supposed to notify their insurer immediately after a worker is injured, but sometimes, they fail to do so. When this happens, the employee needs to file a claim within two years of the injury or illness.

Many businesses and insurance companies make accessing workers comp benefits difficult. A lawyer can help right after you’re injured to ensure you get what you’re entitled to. But they can also fight back against employers and insurers that cause unnecessary struggles throughout this process or illegally prevent you from seeking coverage.

At Whitley Law Firm, our North Carolina workers’ comp attorneys have seen employers create challenges, intimidate, and retaliate against injured or sick employees, even though it’s against the law. We’ve also seen insurance companies deny claims and delay payments, causing unfair hardships for vulnerable workers.

Workers’ comp claims in North Carolina are complex; there are rules and deadlines that must be met, and the best chance at proper recovery and support is to hire an attorney. Contact Whitley Law online or at 919-785-5000 for a free case consultation.

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