A new Oregon State University study shows an increased number of traumatic injuries on the job as the temperature rises, with rates higher among agriculture and construction workers.
The study, published Sept. 15, analyzed worker compensation claims in Oregon from 2009 to 2018 to look at the effects of heat on rates of traumatic injuries. The OSU research team combed over nearly 92,000 injury claims, filed between April 1 and Oct. 31 of each year, in which workers suffered temporary disability, permanent disability or death.
In addition to heat, researchers also investigated the impact of wildfire smoke on worker injury rates.
Lead author Richard Evoy says the results helped to confirm his initial thoughts.
“We expected to see an increase, but we didn’t expect to see as dramatic of an increase as we saw,” he says.
The researchers found a 15 to 29% increase in worker injuries when the temperature was above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Rates were even higher when the heat index rose above 90 degrees.
He adds that this study only shows an observed increase in injury rates. They’re not yet sure if the injuries are caused specifically by the higher temperatures.
Evoy says this research is important as the Pacific Northwest continues to experience hotter and drier summers.
“We have seen that increasing temperatures are going to happen across the U.S. and that there are health risks with extreme heat events,” Evoy says. “So it’s really important that we continue to study these and get more insight into how these events can impact workers’ lives and their health.”
When looking at the impacts of wildfire smoke, Evoy says the results are inconclusive and more research is needed.
Traumatic injury rates were higher among agriculture and construction workers, who spend much of their time outdoors.
Oregon adopted new protections this year to require breaks and training to help workers during periods of extreme heat and wildfire smoke.