How About This Heat?

Aug. 24, 2023
Rising temperatures are a serious risk for workers

I worked at a gas station during grad school. One summer, a heat wave gripped Pittsburgh, and the temperature rose above 90 degrees for a week.

As a cashier, small talk was part of my job. But I usually tried to avoid discussing the weather. In my opinion, it’s the lowest form of small talk—basic and boring.

However, there was something about standing in that air-conditioned convenience store and seeing customers walk in sweaty and miserable that made the topic interesting and amusing.

So, that week, I looked customers in the eyes, smiled, and said, “How about this heat?”

Most people were all too happy to complain about the temperature.

You know who didn’t complain? Construction workers. One guy, who had clearly been at a construction site all day, stared at me blankly for a few seconds.

He probably debated hitting me for asking, “Hot enough for you?”

Finally, he laughed and nodded as a way to brush off my nonsense.

The people who work in this heat deserve our respect and admiration. Our roads and bridges need to be rehabilitated, maintained, and rebuilt, and they battle the sun to get the job done.

This summer has not been easy on them, especially in the southwest.

In Phoenix, temperatures have reached 110 degrees or higher for 31 consecutive days this summer. How do construction workers even survive such conditions?

Some crews have adjusted their schedule to avoid the sun, but not everyone can.

Workers need to be careful. Heat illnesses are preventable.

Workers wear clothing, like hardhats and other protective gear, that make them hotter than usual. Workers need to take frequent breaks. They need to seek shade. They need to wear sunscreen. And, most importantly, they need to stay hydrated.

Workers need to be protected in this heat. Project managers, stakeholders, and everyone else who is high up on the corporate ladder must make the health and safety of workers a top priority.

Five states (California, Colorado, Washington, Minnesota, and Oregon) have worker heat protection laws. And President Biden has vowed to increase heat-safety inspections. If industry leaders don’t take this seriously, then more states will follow.

Most industry leaders hate regulation. But, the laws won’t be needed if they sim- ply take care of people who are working in triple-digit temperatures.

From 2011-2021, there were at least 436 work-related deaths caused by environmental heat exposure, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They were preventable deaths.

Finishing a project on time is important. A lot of money is at stake. But, it’s not more important than the lives of your workers.

And hey, there I go again, trying to get folks to discuss the weather. Thanks for shopping with us. Come again soon. R&B 

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