Though it’s the end of August, but heat and temperatures may climb high in some areas for at least a few more weeks. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, 2021 was the warmest summer on record since 1936. This year, the U.S. had heat waves affect the entire country. A new study from First Street Foundation announced that the U.S. will see 125˚ days by 2053.
The industrial or outdoor workforce is often at particular risk from summer heat. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that over 4,000 U.S. workers are seriously injured or die from heat stress every year. Many work in direct sunlight, with no air-conditioning, and/or with multiple heat stressors. A 2017 study published in Nature Climate Change determined that while about 30% of the population was exposed to a deadly combination of heat and humidity for at least 20 days annually, that percentage would increase to nearly half by the year 2100.
So what can the landscape industry do to help deal with rising temperatures, yet still retain productivity? Yes, hydration and cooling stations are key, but what else?
In the landscaping industry, we talk a lot about heat tolerant plants. Well, it turns out some people have more physiological heat tolerance than others. But, heat tolerance is also something that can be improved. Just as scuba divers or hikers in high altitudes know, acclimatization is key.
Last week, Time published a fascinating article, “How to Build Up Your Heat Tolerance to Prepare for a Hotter World” examining heat acclimatization, which is “the process of the body gearing up all these physiological systems to better handle heat stress,” according to W. Larry Kenney, a professor of physiology and kinesiology at Penn State. He told Time, “To get acclimatized, you could go outside on a hot day and engage in mild activity—like taking a walk—for a very short period of time—about 15 minutes—and then repeat the process the following day. It takes the average person between nine and 14 exposures to become acclimatized, Kenney says. ‘The fitter you are, the shorter that time is.'”
Acclimatization expands blood volume which allows the heart to not work as hard and provides greater sweating with less dilution so we retain more salt. Interestingly, acclimatization also helps people sweat more frequently on their limbs. “When people are unacclimatized, most of their sweating is on the trunk, the face, the back, and the chest,” Kenney told Time. “But the best way to evaporate sweat is to get it all over the body. So being able to sweat more on the limbs, which are moving through space quite a bit, allows that sweat to evaporate better.”
For landscapers trying to build their heat tolerance, the Time article recommends slowly introducing yourself to hot environments over one to two weeks. “Those who are new to working outside benefit from easing in, perhaps spending 20% of their first day in the heat and then gradually increasing that time for the rest of the week,” states the article.
A note: Humans can safely regulate their body temperature only up to a certain limit and combination of heat and humidity. Research suggests that limit is 88˚ at 100% humidity or 100˚ at 60% humidity, according to Time.
Choosing lightweight PPE can also be a vital step in heat safety, according to experts at Magid. Here are three of their tips:
1) Determine the ANSI Cut, Abrasion, and Puncture Resistance Levels required, then search for lightweight products. Never sacrifice protection for comfort. First, determine the necessary ANSI Cut, Abrasion, and Puncture Resistance Levels needed to keep workers safe. Next, search for products that meet those levels and are composed of materials that keep products lightweight such as Hyperon, HPPE, or low-profile TPR. Magid offers a technology called AeroDex® which is 50% lighter than HPPE of the same cut level and available in gloves, sleeves, and protective clothing.
2) Choose vented PPE for hazard-facing protection. Some applications require heavier protection than others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that workers need to be covered head-to-toe in thick gear. Even PPE such as impact gloves can offer heat-releasing features. Magid’s TREX® Windstorm Series has a CoolMesh® venting system that enhances airflow up to 60 percent compared to traditional impact gloves.
3) Look for long-lasting cooling gear that can be reactivated on the job. New technologies in cooling gear like products are portable, can be activated with any temperature of water, cool in seconds to 30˚ below the average body temperature, and stay cool for up to two hours. Because this gear is chemical-free and machine washable, workers can reuse and reactivate it over and over again. It’s also important to make sure cooling garments are appropriate for the work application. For example, someone working with machinery may not be able to use an item such as a cooling towel as it can get caught and lead to serious injury. In this case, search for cooling products available in various styles like neck gaiters, skull caps, or bandanas. Check out Magid® Cool powered by Mission® .
For more heat safety resources to help keep workers cool and comfortable, visit Magid’s Heat Illness Prevent HQ here.