Workers in oilfields are at risk of heat exposure from the sun and from the equipment they use. In the summer, the risks naturally increase. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warns employers about the hazards of working in outdoor and indoor environments where the heat could pose a problem. Oil and gas industry workers are among those who should heed those warnings.
What are the hazards of working in the heat?
The body expends a lot of energy trying to keep itself cool in high temperatures. When the air temperature is warmer than the body’s temperature, keeping the body cool becomes increasingly difficult. The body sweats to cool itself off, but as the body sweats, it loses vital salts and electrolytes. As the core temperature rises, the heart rate increases. Exposure to high temperatures can cause a number of heat-related illnesses.
The symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech
- Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
- Very high body temperature
- Loss of consciousness (coma)
- Death if left untreated (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)
First aid for heat stroke:
If a worker has heat stroke, you should do the following:
- Call 911 for emergency medical care.
- Stay with the worker until medical services arrive.
- Move the person to a shaded, cooler area and remove the outer layer clothing.
- Cool him/her down with cold water or ice bath if possible.
- Place cold, wet cloths or ice on the head, neck, armpits and groin, or soak the clothing in cold water, if a tub is not available.
- Circulate the air to speed cooling.
Workers are at an increased risk of heat stroke during hot, humid summer days, but because of the nature of the work in the oil and gas industry, a worker can suffer from heat stress anytime. If you are overweight, have high blood pressure or heart disease, or are taking medications that could be affected by the high temperatures, you must be careful and take steps to prevent heat stress. Your employer should be taking steps to make workers aware of the risks of heat stress, and encouraging them to drink plenty of water, get adequate rest, and take breaks in the shade or indoors in the air conditioning.
During periods of high heat when there is outdoor work that must be done, your employer should have an emergency plan in place in case of a heat-related illness so that there is no long wait for emergency medical services to arrive.
Other heat-related illnesses
- Heat exhaustion is a high risk for the elderly, those with high blood pressure, and those who work in high heat.
- Rhabdomyolysis involves the rapid breakdown and death of muscle tissue due to overexertion in extreme heat.
- Heat syncope (fainting) can be a result of dehydration and lack of acclimatization.
- Heat cramps occur from insufficient salt and moisture levels in the body, and they can be a symptom of heat stroke.
- Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating in hot, humid weather.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a printable chart which contains the heat-related illnesses and what to do if you or a co-worker displays any of these symptoms after working in the heat.
Oil and gas extraction work is full of hazards. If a company does not provide a safe working environment for its workers, it must be held to account for any injuries to employees that result from such negligence. If you suffered a heat-related injury or any other type of injury working in the patch, our North Dakota oilfield injury attorneys at Larson Law Firm, P.C. can help. To schedule a free consultation, call us in Minot or Bismarck today at 701.484.HURT or complete our contact form.