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New OSU study shows increase in workplace injuries during heatwaves

AP Construction worker
Gerry Broome
A construction worker is seen on the roof of a new home under construction in Mebane, N.C. Construction workers spend much of their times outdoors, making them more susceptible to heat related illnesses.

A new Oregon State University study shows an increased number of traumatic injuries as the temperature rises. The rates are higher among agriculture and construction workers.

The study analyzed workers compensation claims in Oregon over nearly a decade to look at the effects of heat and wildfire smoke on rates of traumatic injuries.

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 percent 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 in 2022 to require breaks and training to help workers during periods of extreme heat and wildfire smoke.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast.