For those of us who live, work and play in the Southwest, heat is nothing new.
But what might be surprising is just how well we have learned to prosper despite summertime temperatures that would make the devil perspire. Average June, July and August temperatures hover over 100 degrees in many population centers in the Southwest, but according to national statistics, the Southwest has relatively few fatalities when compared to other states and regions in the U.S.
According to Office of Services and the National Climatic Data Center statistics published in early May, there were a combined 22 heat related fatalities in Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada in 2012. That pales in comparison to the 57 heat-related deaths in New York or the 47 in Illinois in 2012. Big metropolitan areas translate into bigger numbers, right? Well, not really. There were also 27 heat-related deaths in Kentucky and 14 in Wisconsin.
Yup, you read that right. There were more heat-related deaths in Wisconsin in 2012 than in either Arizona, New Mexico or Nevada.
And the trend continues to heat-related on-the-job illnesses as well. According to statistics compiled by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there were only three on-the-job heat deaths from 2008 to 2012 — two in Arizona and one in Nevada.
All three were construction related, though.
In 2008, a laborer succumbed after unloading a truck with 40 pound bags of sand and a roofing foreman became terminally ill after a July day on the job. Most recently, in 2012, another construction worker fell ill after a day’s work.
But compared to the millions of man hours logged by construction personnel from 2008 to 2012 and the fact that a mere three fatalities have occurred might be somewhat of a miracle. Not a miracle of the Biblical kind, but rather a miracle that people have persevered.
Certainly, it has been a public priority. Every state stresses heat-exposure education and specialty programs like OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool — an app for smart phones — have used technology to provide up-to-the-minute information.
Shade and water are the biggest answers — especially in a hot and arid Southwest. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health recommends that workers drink five to seven ounces of fluids every 15 to 20 minutes and to stay away from alcohol, caffeine and anything but cool water and some sports drinks.
Starting at 5:30 a.m. and ending before 2 p.m. helps, too. A lot.
Regardless of the techniques, though, summer construction at such low fatality rates is a testament to the workers who bear the heat and stay hydrated to consequently be as cool as possible while doing a deadline pressured, technically demanding job.
The fact that they do it while generating up to three gallons of sweat a day according to NIOSH, is perhaps the secret to it all.
Stay sweaty, stay alive.