Beating the Heat

Last week, basketball royalty and media-superstar LeBron James was forced to make an early exit from Game 1 of the NBA Finals due to severe leg cramps. The King’s cramps were due in large part to the malfunctioning air-conditioning system at the AT&T Center, home of the San Antonio Spurs. Combined with the Texas summer outside, the system failure caused indoor temperatures during the game to soar to as high as 90 degrees. The high temps wreaked havoc on LeBron, resulting in muscle spasms that forced him to the bench late in the fourth quarter. Without James, the Miami Heat (ironically) fared poorly in the sweltering conditions, losing the game 105-90.  TooHot

As we enter the summer, the King’s struggles with the rising temperatures indoors highlights a concern for many employers whose employees work outside or in extreme temperatures on a daily basis. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.” Courts have interpreted OSHA’s general duty clause to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard. This includes heat-related hazards that are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm.

OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standard requires every employer in general industry to conduct a hazard assessment to determine the appropriate PPE to be used to protect employees from the hazards identified in the assessment. In addition to the general standard, OSHA has developed specific standards that apply to particular industries such as construction sites and shipyards. In addition, OSHA’s Recordkeeping regulations require that employers record certain work-related injuries and illnesses. For example, if a worker requires medical treatment beyond first aid, the worker’s illness or injury must be recorded. However, if a worker merely requires first aid for the worker’s condition, the employer is not required to record the condition. In the context of a heat-related incident, OSHA requires generally that if a worker requires intravenous fluids, the worker’s condition must be recorded. (This would apply to the Miami Heat, as LeBron James was given several IV cramping treatments both during and after Game 1.) But if a worker is only instructed to drink fluids for relief of heat stress, the worker’s condition is not recordable. The regulations provide more specific guidance on the difference between medical treatment and first aid.

Luckily for Miami Heat fans, King James and company were able to bounce back and win Game 2 on Sunday night. The series now moves to Miami for games 3 and 4, where, given the relative age of the Spurs players, Coach Gregg Popovich may have a tough time keeping his team focused on the series instead of touring the local retirement communities.

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