Summer 2023 brought record-breaking temperatures across the United States, with outdoor workers suffering the most. A new survey finds that 42% of outdoor workers experienced severe mental health tolls during the summertime.
The survey from Atticus explored how the summer’s severe heat impacted workers' health, safety, income, and career options. Currently, most states within the U.S. don’t have any protections for laborers experiencing hot working conditions.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,220 Americans are killed by extreme heat each year. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are three of the most common heat-related illnesses. Atticus investigators found that 70% of their heat-exposed survey participants experienced heat exhaustion at work.
"Extreme heat events have become increasingly prevalent, making it a pressing concern affecting many heat-exposed workers," Atticus data journalist Ricardo Rodriguez told Healthnews. "We found that nearly 1 in 6 heat-exposed workers say their employer is not implementing extreme heat safety measures, and half of heat-exposed workers have lost income due to reduced work from extreme heat. Because of this, they have lost 20% of their income on average."
Atticus explored the effects of how outdoor laborers’ income was affected by the summer’s extreme heat. New England led all regions of the country, with 71% of heat-exposed workers reporting lost income due to reduced hours. Following was the West North Central Region, which includes Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, plus North and South Dakota. Sixty-eight percent of workers in these states reported income loss.
Unlike those midwestern states, only 39% of workers in the East North Central Region featuring Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin reported income loss — the best rating of any region. The Middle Atlantic Region, made up of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, was the second-best region, with 40% of workers disclosing income loss.
How are outdoor workers impacted mentally?
In extreme heat conditions, 37% of outdoor laborers revealed a drop in work productivity. Along with the physical and economic restraints, workers are also suffering from negative mental health effects. A whopping 44% of outdoor workers reported stress from heat waves. The negatives of outdoor labor may send workers searching for new career paths.
"We learned that 57% of workers exposed to extreme heat are considering changing careers due to adverse working conditions. To help prevent this from happening, employers should provide excellent training to educate their employees about the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, implement a heat illness prevention plan, monitor forecasts and adjust accordingly, provide access to water and shade, and encourage breaks and rest periods."- Rodriguez
Safety standards for outdoor workers lie on lawmakers’ shoulders. California, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington are the only U.S. States to offer protection for workers in the heat. Colorado’s standards apply to agriculture workers only, while Minnestota’s standards pertain solely to indoor workers.
In July, President Joe Biden asked his Department of Labor to issue the first-ever "Hazard Alert" for heat in order to protect workers. The White House says the alert will, "provide information on what employers can and should be doing now to protect their workers."
Additionally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is investing up to $7 million in improved weather forecasts. The U.S. government has also launched HEAT.gov, the webpage for the National Integrated Heat Health Information System.
In hot weather countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, workers are witnessing increased protection. Both countries contain midday outdoor work bans that started on June 15 and finished on Sept. 15. Rodriguez says U.S. outdoor workers could use more perks during the heat to increase productivity and reduce the risk of illness.
"Providing more breaks for workers during periods of extreme heat can increase production and overall efficiency," Rodriguez said. "It will help prevent heat-related illnesses, reduce the risk of accidents, improve focus and alertness, enhance morale and job satisfaction, and optimize physical performance."
With the fall underway as of Saturday, cooler days are likely on the horizon. However in some parts of the country, 90-degree Fahrenheit days or higher are still a reality. The CDC recommends hydration as the best method to prevent heat-related illnesses.
When working in hot conditions, the CDC advises one cup (eight ounces) of water every 15 to 20 minutes. Drinking in shorter intervals is more effective than in large quantities. The CDC says to not drink more than 48 oz of fluids in one hour over fears of possible low salt concentration in the bloodstream.