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Most exertion-related injuries and deaths attributable to heat: study

Photo: Sunbelt Rentals/eLCOSH

Storrs, CT — Heat exposure and heat-related illness cause the vast majority of exertion-related injuries and deaths in the workplace, according to researchers from the University of Connecticut.

“Heat is a problem and it might not be one people automatically think of,” said Margaret Morrissey, president of occupational safety for UConn’s Korey Stringer Institute and the study’s lead author.

The team examined data from OSHA on reports of severe injuries, categorizing nearly 59,000 reported injuries and fatalities as exertional or nonexertional. They found that heat-related cases comprised 91.9% of exertional injuries from 2015 to 2020, as well as 87.6% of exertion-related fatalities from 2017 to 2020.

Exertion-related injuries and fatalities most often were reported in the Southeast and in the construction and excavation industries, and typically involved nonunion workers.

“Not only are we seeing predominantly heat-related fatalities and injuries for exertion-related events, but we’re thinking this is underreported too,” Morrissey said in a press release. “The problem may be a lot bigger than we originally anticipated.”

Why? The researchers note that data employers report to OSHA is limited to events that occur on the jobsite, and therefore may exclude cases in which a worker suffers an injury or fatality related to workplace heat stress elsewhere. Further, the agency doesn’t include data from heat-related illness treated at the worksite through remedies such as hydration and body cooling.

“As heat stress continues to be recognized as an occupational health and safety hazard, this analysis further highlights the need for targeted interventions or further evaluation of the impact of heat stress” in worker populations, the study states.

The study was published online in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

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