Arizona is no stranger to extreme heat, especially in the summer months. During a virtual climate summit, the Biden administration launched a plan to address the ‘silent killer’ plaguing our country: rising temperatures. The White House has decided to take action on the climate crisis after temperatures this summer reached dangerous heights across the country.
“White House climate advisor Gina McCarthy called heat stress a ‘silent killer’ that disproportionately affects the poor, elderly and minority groups. While not as dramatic as wildfires or hurricanes, ‘heat stress is a significant, real threat that has deadly consequences’,” McCarthy said in an interview.
As part of the plan, the administration will launch a program that will help both outdoor workers and indoor workers affected by the heat.
Roy Sawyer, construction manager for JE Dunn Construction, has been in the industry for 25 years and is one of the outdoor workers that this initiative may impact.
His workers typically “try to start as early as [they] can,” he says, “but the problem with downtown is there’s restrictions on starting too early. So it puts the guys out a lot longer in the heat. We’ve had a lot of guys drop out where, you know, they get heat exhaustion.”
Sawyer’s experience in the industry has allowed him time to figure out what he can do to protect himself and his workers from extreme heat. “The heat’s pretty intense, you know, you take a lot of breaks, you drink a lot of fluids, a lot of electrolytes, ” Sawyer says.
Sawyer says seeing more drink aids, cooling stations and shade structures could help him and his team reduce heat exhaustion.
Heat illness is a common concern in Arizona but with the White House’s increasing concern of climate change, Biden’s administration is starting to take action.
“In fact, the National Weather Service has confirmed that extreme heat is now the leading weather-related killer in America,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.
Arizonans are familiar with finding ways to work around the heat, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it will be issuing a new rule that will prioritize “heat-related interventions and inspections of work activities on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit,” OSHA announced in a national news release.
As many of us know, a good portion of the year in Arizona has temperatures that far exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so how will the new rule be implemented here? The Biden Administration has said they will focus on “urban heat islands” in cities where heat is absorbed and retained through dense infrastructures, like buildings and pavement. Cities in Arizona, like Phoenix, “will see an expansion of urban forestry programs and other greening projects,” the White House said.
While national government action on this crisis is relatively new, Arizonans are taking initiative and finding their own ways to solve the “urban heat island” effect. Just last month the City of Phoenix and Arizona State University announced their results a year after implementing cool pavement, a coating that has the ability to reflect higher amounts of sunlight and absorb less heat than traditional pavement.
As another initiative, an Arizona State Legislature bill was discussed in February that would have focussed on working conditions and heat illness prevention but was ultimately held in committee.
Although Arizona hasn’t seen much national action taken yet, OSHA said it is set to “take a significant step toward a federal heat standard” this month.