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Workers' compensation: Heat stress threatens California workers

Prompt treatment of heat stress symptoms can prevent it from developing into a life-threatening condition. Every year, thousands of California workers file workers' compensation claims for preventable work-related health issues. It is crucial for workers in all industries to learn how to recognize the telltale signs of heat illness in themselves and their co-workers.

The first red flags for workers in hot environments are heat cramps that can be painful and cause brief discomfort. The muscle cramps can occur immediately or during the hours following exertion. Heat exhaustion can develop if the cramps are ignored. This condition can result from water depletion, which will cause excessive thirst, headache, weakness and loss of consciousness. Salt depletion can also cause heat exhaustion, causing muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting and dizziness.

If none of the initial symptoms are recognized, and the worker is not moved to a cool area, heat stroke can result. It is a severe condition that results from prolonged periods of heat exposure. Dehydration occurs, which causes the temperature control system of the body to fail. Heat stroke can cause brain damage and harm other internal organs. Without immediate medical treatment, it could result in death.

Workers who look out for each other can act as soon as they notice co-workers losing focus and showing signs of fatigue. The California workers' compensation system will cover the costs of any medical treatment that follows. Victims of heat-related illnesses who were hospitalized or recovering and unable to return to work for several days might be eligible for wage replacement. Legal counsel can assist with the legal and administrative steps to claim benefits.

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