Opinion | With Temperatures Reaching Record Highs, We’ve Got to Do More for Our Outdoor Workers

Climate change is happening; summers are hotter, storms more volatile and outdoor working environments are changing.
By: | August 13, 2019

My dad is a UPS driver. He has been for more than 30 years.

So when I read things like the NBC News expose on the risks related to working in the summer heat, it’s more than another news story. It’s a bit personal.

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In the article, the authors take a deep dive into how UPS drivers deal with the heat. It reiterated facts I know well — these trucks are rarely air conditioned, the hours are long and span across the hottest parts of the day, the uniforms do not breathe and the trucks themselves can easily top 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

One driver, Jim Klenk, reports on his very real near-death experience. His blood pressure dropped, he was dehydrated and vomiting, and his kidneys were failing. All induced by the heat.

Sure, this UPS driver had frozen water bottles and wet towels to keep himself cooled down, but should it really be up to him to find ways to keep from getting heatstroke while on the job? Shouldn’t his employer be thinking about the conditions it sends its drivers out in?

Recent heat waves across the country easily surpassed 100 degrees. Add in humidity, and it’s a recipe for heat exhaustion, dehydration or worse.

But the industry is changing, right? The internet has drastically changed the expectations placed on these corporations, and so too, changed the expectations these corporations have for their employees. Two-day delivery? Sure thing, we got you. 98-degree weather? Hope you have an ice pack.

NBC said it best: “Not finishing a delivery route wasn’t looked upon favorably.”

I’m sorry, but the bottom line shouldn’t be more important than worker health and safety. It just shouldn’t be.

According to the story, there were a total of 107 known heat-related hospitalizations over a four-year span at UPS. It sounds small compared to the approximate 74,000 drivers on the road, but even one overlooked case is dangerous.

“The total number of UPS employees who suffered from heat illnesses is likely much higher, experts said. Heat illness symptoms can look like other illnesses and heart attacks can go unrecognized when heat-induced,” said NBC.

It’s not just UPS, either. Mail delivery persons, garbage truck drivers, gardeners and landscapers, roofers, construction workers, farmers — these are huge industries where workers are in the throes of dangerous weather. All types.

UPS has a program called “Cool Solutions,” which requires company leaders to educate employees on the symptoms of heat illness during morning meetings. Drink water, they say. Seek shade.

Where’s the action?

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Make shade breaks mandatory, especially for the workers who are standing in the heat all day. Invest in uniforms made from breathable fabrics. There are wearables that can monitor employees’ body temperatures and heart rates. Track in real time when a worker is in danger of overheating or worse.

UPS argues it would not be cost effective to add air conditioning to its trucks.

“Our delivery vehicles make frequent stops and the entry doors and rear doors are frequently opened and closed throughout the day, making air conditioning ineffective,” Dan McMackin, a UPS spokesperson, told CNNMoney.

Okay, fine. What if, instead, the drivers’ seats are made from the same gel material used in cooling pillows? It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s something.

Climate change is happening. Summers are getting hotter, storms are growing more volatile and outdoor working environments are changing.

There’s really no excuse for these companies. Frozen water bottles and wet towels aren’t going to cut it. &

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]