As temperatures rise. workers in the South West face health problems

Many workers may not realize their health is at risk, according to a new study that examined how extreme heat affects the health of outdoor workers in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix, three of the hottest cities. the United States. Photo by Thomas Wolf, foto-tw.de/Wikimedia Commons

It’s getting hotter outside due to global warming, and as a result, outdoor workers in the southwestern states are increasingly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.

Worse still, many of these workers may not realize that their health is at risk.

That’s the main finding of a new study that looked at how extreme heat affects the health of outdoor workers in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix, three of the hottest cities in the United States.

“Heat is not always perceived as a health risk, but this can cause significant problemssaid study author Erick Bandala. He is an assistant research professor of environmental science at the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas.

“Heat-related illnesses can range from mild headaches, cramps or dehydration to life-threatening heatstroke,” Bandala said.

When researchers compared work-related injury and illness data from 2011 to 2018 with heat index data from Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix, they found that the increase in heat corresponded to increase in heat-related workplace injuries.

(The Heat Index combines temperature and humidity to measure what heat really feels like to people.)

“Every year we see an increase in heat waves and higher temperatures, and everyone who works outdoors on the streets or in gardens or agriculture is exposed to it,” Bandala said.

According to the study, the average heat indices in Phoenix and Las Vegas went from “extremely cautious” in the summer of 2012 to the “extremely dangerous” range in the summer of 2018.

During this period, the number of non-fatal heat-related occupational injuries and illnesses in each of the three cities has increased steadily, from below the national average in 2011 to above in 2018.

And the more years a person spends working in the heat, the more likely they are to suffer from heat-related illnesses, the study authors said. In severe cases, damage from heat-related illnesses can disrupt the central nervous system, blood clotting mechanisms, and liver and kidney function.

Women may be more vulnerable to certain heat-related conditions than men, including hyponatremiawhich develops when too much plain water is consumed and blood sodium levels become too low, Bandala said.

“Women are more prone to low electrolytes when they drink a lot of plain water, and that can make it worse,” he added. Electrolytes are minerals such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium that dissolve in body fluids.

In March, another study showed an increase in cardiac deaths in the United States related to heat waves.

It’s time to be more proactive in preventing heat-related illnesses, Bandala said. This includes recognizing that you are at risk, drinking water with electrolytes, and taking breaks in cool places.

The study was published online recently in the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology.

“Extreme heat has gotten so much more extreme and we’re seeing more heat-related illnesses,” said Heidi Brown, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Arizona College of Public Health in Tucson. .

“We need to improve our ability to manage heat and recognize the challenges that outdoor workers face in places of extreme heat,” said Brown, who was unrelated to the research.

Brown co-leads his county’s participation in a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program called Building Resilience Against Climate Effects that helps cities address heat issues. His team is currently helping to expand access to cooling centers.

“We are trying to find people who will house cooling centers and open mobile cooling centers that will be there when workers need them,” she said. Cooling centers are air-conditioned sites that are open during hot weather.

“Temperature is not just information, it’s also a warning,” Brown pointed out.

“When it’s hot in Arizona, it’s a trigger to make backup plans, seek shade, use sunscreen, make sure you have enough water, and watch out for other people who might be vulnerable. in extreme heat,” Brown said.

More information

The US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health offers tips for recognizing and treating heat-related illnesses.

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