Whether you watch the Weather Channel or not, you’ve no doubt observed that it is alarmingly hot out there this summer. Like blast furnace-hot. Many areas, especially the midwest and southwest regions, are effortlessly setting records for consecutive days smoldering through triple-digit temperatures.
For waste collection workers and others whose office is the outdoors, temperatures like this aren’t just an annoyance; they’re potentially life threatening. Recognizing this danger, last year Phoenix-based Republic Services launched a safety program it calls “101 Days of Summer.” Republic’s Southern Nevada Area Safety Manager Adrian Levy, based in Las Vegas, says the program is a combination of education and establishing good habits. “A lot of times, our employees aren’t really aware of the severity of heat-related illnesses. So ‘101 Days’ is a drive to promote awareness and to teach about prevention.”
Employees are taught about the progression of heat-related illnesses, including heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and ultimately heat stroke, which can be fatal. “That’s when the body just completely stops sweating and you need to take immediate action,” warns Levy. Recognizing these stages and their symptoms are key to preventing tragedy, he says. The program also explains how humidity can exacerbate heat’s effects, something often overlooked in dry-heat desert climates that are still liable to get unexpected summer showers.
Levy notes that the best method of prevention is a simple one: hydration. Employees are instructed to drink at least eight ounces every 15 minutes, not exceeding a quart inside an hour. Sufficient hydration off the job is also encouraged. He says Gatorade and other sports drinks with electrolytes can be helpful, but that they also contain lots of sugar and unnecessary chemicals, and thus take longer to enter and cool the body. Levy recommends alternating them with water.
Like many safety awareness campaigns, 101 Days of Summer tries to incentivize accident prevention. A large banner is posted at each Republic work site, representing the goal of passing summer’s 101 days without incident. “For each day we go without any type of heat-related illness to an employee, we put a blue symbol up,” says Levy. “Then, when someone suffers a heat-related illness, we put a red one up just to promote awareness; to say, ‘Hey, it has happened to someone, so keep your focus.’”
Happily, Levy has not had to post any red symbols at Republic’s Las Vegas facility this year. Compare that to last summer, when there were several heat-related incidents, including two employees who had to be shuttled by ambulance to a hospital. Levy says this improvement, despite markedly hotter temperatures this year, shows the message is getting through.
“Once we recognized that gap and the need for this education, we put it out there,” he says.