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Study finds farm, construction worker injuries increase with heat

An Oregon State University study found an association with increasing temperatures and increased rates of injury claims that were more pronounced among workers in the agricultural and construction sectors.

The study analyzed about 92,000 accepted claims and found that the rate of injuries is about 4% higher when the maximum heat index exceeds 75 degrees. The incident ratio for agriculture and construction workers is 14% higher.

When the heat index hits 115 to 119 degrees, the incident rate is 11% higher than the average rate at temperatures of 74 degrees or cooler.

“While it is well understood that agricultural and construction industries have high rates of traumatic injuries, the findings suggest that these industries have gradually higher IRRs as temperatures increases,” the study says. “The question that needs to be investigated is why.”

Researchers said they also found a relationship between the presence of wildfire smoke and increased rates of injury claims among all workers. However, once the heat index was included in the same model, the results for wildfire smoke became “insignificant.”

“This could be due to the high correlation between heat levels and wildfire smoke or the exposure metrics used for wildfire smoke,” the study says.

The Biden administration in September 2021 announced that the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are implementing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards, launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard and developing a national emphasis program on heat inspections.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier in September signed A.B. 1643 creating a study group to analyze the effects of high heat on workers and the state’s economy. The group will be tasked with addressing issues such as the amount of time missed from work due to heat, the frequency of workplace injuries at different temperatures and potential underreporting of heat-related injuries and illnesses. The final report is due Jan. 1, 2026.

This article was first published in Business Insurance.

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