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NY workers’ compensation claims 45% more likely on high-heat days, report finds

A construction worker in Brooklyn, New York, takes a break during a heatwave. (AP Photo/Jon Gerberg)
Jon Gerberg
A construction worker in Brooklyn, New York, takes a break during a heatwave. (AP Photo/Jon Gerberg)

New York could be in for a very hot summer and workers could face a high risk to their health and safety.

When temperatures climb above 80 degrees, workers are more likely to file a workers’ compensation claim, and injuries occurring on those days are also likely to be more severe.

That's according to 95,000 workers’ compensation claims from May through September of 2017 to 2021 that the New York State Insurance Fund, or NYSIF, has analyzed. The public insurance carrier is the largest provider of workers' compensation insurance in the state, providing policies largely to small- and mid-sized businesses.

The report finds that claims were 45% more likely on days with a heat classification from the National Weather Service, which categorizes temperatures over 80 degrees. Claims became increasingly frequent on days with an “extreme caution” classification, with temperatures of 90 to 105 degrees, and on even hotter “danger” classification days above 105 degrees.

The data also reveals that, on average, injuries occurring on high-heat days were more severe and had more costly payouts than those that occurred on days with no heat advisory.

“Climate change is the greatest threat to public health, and we know that workers are among the most vulnerable,” said Gaurav Vasisht, the insurer’s executive director. The data, he explained, echoes findings from academic studies that show workers face increased health and safety risks during high heat.

This comes as the National Weather Service expects higher than average temperatures in the Northeast this summer. National data shows that extreme heat is the deadliest form of extreme weather in the U.S. Scientists expect average temperatures across the country to continue to rise as emissions from burning fossil fuels and other processes trap more heat in the atmosphere.

Notably, heat risks don’t only apply to workers who are primarily outside. NYSIF’s data shows that across all industries, workers’ likelihood of filing a workers’ compensation claim rose on heat advisory days.

The findings are concerning to NYSIF, Vasisht said, particularly because its intent is to serve the public. In response, the organization has launched an initiative to encourage employers to create climate action plans. It will begin with a pilot program that provides incentives for hospitals to reduce their emissions.

“Climate change affects workers, [and] we’re a workers’ compensation insurance company,” said Vasisht. “As such, we are very well situated to do something to contribute to reducing emissions and to help the broader conversation on climate change.”

Hospitals with an insurance policy through NYSIF would be eligible for a 5% credit of their premium, up to a cap of $1 million, if they pledge to working toward reducing 40% of their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and 85% by 2050, from 1990 levels. Hospitals would also have to enhance resilience to climate-related disruptions, like extreme weather, and develop a plan to meet these goals.

“This pilot program will incentivize hospitals to reduce their environmental impact and create a safer and healthier New York,” said Governor Kathy Hochul in a statement. “We are using every tool at our disposal to build a greener, more sustainable future for all New Yorkers.”

WSKG is reporting on how climate change affects working conditions and shifts industries in New York state. We’re also examining efforts to improve labor protections amid rising temperatures. Find more coverage at Got a tip or story suggestion? Reach out to