Extreme heat poses increasing danger for outdoor workers

Extreme heat poses increasing danger for outdoor workers
Photo by Jarosław Kwoczała on Unsplash

LAS VEGAS – Work-related injuries due to rising temperatures are increasing in southwestern cities according to a new study released by scientists from Desert Research Institute, Nevada State College and the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities.

The study looked at the change in heat index for three cities – Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles – from 2012 to 2018 and then analyzed the number of non-fatal heat-related workplace injuries and illnesses in the same locations and years. Heat index data combines temperature and humidity to measure how people feel the heat.

“We expected to see a correlation between high temperatures and people getting sick – and we found that there was a very clear trend in most cases,” said lead author Erick Bandala, Ph.D., assistant research professor of environmental science at DRI. “Surprisingly, this type of analysis hadn’t been done in the past, and there are some really interesting social implications to what we learned.”

Over the years studied the heat index in Las Vegas and Phoenix had a significant increase, moving from “extreme caution” to “danger.” During that same time, the heat-related workplace injuries and illnesses also saw a steady increase.

“Our data indicate that the increases in heat are happening alongside increases in the number of nonfatal occupational injuries across these three states,” Bandala said. “Every year we are seeing increased heat waves and higher temperatures, and all of the people who work outside in the streets or in gardens or agriculture are exposed to this.”

Additional analysis showed that the percentage of women who are affected by heat-related workplace injuries grew at a faster rate than similar injuries for men. Researchers said this increase may be because more women are entering the outdoor workforce, but also said gender-related physical factors may also play a role.

Examples of heat-related illnesses workers may experience on the job include heat exhaustion and heat stroke, as well as hyponatremia – a condition that develops when too much plain water is ingested and sodium levels in the blood get too low.

Medical experts said such injuries can damage tissues and organs and require lengthy recovery. The study’s authors found that some workers who reported heat-related workplace injuries were out of work for more than 30 days.

“These lengthy recovery times are a significant problem for workers and their families, many of whom are living day-to-day,” Bandala said. “When we have these extreme heat conditions coming every year and a lot of people working outside, we need to know what are the consequences of these problems, and we need the people to know about the risk so that they take proper precautions.”

Source: DRI