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Recent conditions put outdoor workers, others at risk

Business continues in extreme heat

“It is too hot.”

That’s the expert opinion of Dr. Mary Currier, state epidemiologist with the Mississippi State Department of Health. But it is hardly news to Mississippi residents. The heat is currently a popular topic of conversation even among people who spend most of their time under an air conditioner.

South Mississippi in particular has seen scorching temperatures with new records being set for high temperatures in mid July combined with record-breaking electricity consumption levels. Temperatures have been in the upper 90s to over 100 degrees with a heat index of 105-110 for much of the state.

Currier advises people to be very cautious in the extreme heat.

“Stay indoors in the air conditioning if you can,” Currier advises. “Everyone has to be careful when it is this hot. Use common sense. Wear lose, light color clothes. And make sure you are drinking enough fluids, three to four glasses every hour. That’s more than you will be thirsty for.”

Alcohol is definitely out as it causes loss of fluids.

Staying in under an air conditioning isn’t an option for many workers. For them, the heat can be life threatening. There were several deaths from heat stroke this summer even before the worst of the hot weather set in.

Currier said the state doesn’t collect data on the occurrence of heat stroke, but does keep records on deaths from heat stroke. Data from death certificates lags about three to four weeks behind.

In mid-July, the state had seen three deaths from heat stroke in June, and one in July.

Workers have to cope as best they can.

“You’re finding in the construction industry that they are having to go to work earlier in the morning, taking breaks during midday, and then maybe working late in the evenings,” said Perry Nations, executive director of Associated General Contractors of Mississippi. “Of course, productivity obviously would be reduced in the heat. People just can’t stand it. We’ve already had one heat stroke death in construction in the Jackson area. It is very strenuous work, and there is really no shade.”

Nations said the secret is to drink plenty of fluids, and take frequent breaks to cool down. It is also important to recognize the early symptoms of heat stroke and get immediate medical assistance.

Nations said the heat is as bad as he can remember in the 25 years he has been in this state. In the southern part of the state, the heat seems worse because of drought. The normal afternoon thunderstorms that cool things down have largely been missing.

Coping with heat needs to be part of a company’s safety program, says Ben Logan, vice president of Carothers Construction in Water Valley.

“The heat can especially be a problem in the environment these guys work in with hard hats, safety glasses and other safety equipment,” Logan said. “One of the things we do is put a lot fans in the work area and furnish ice water for workers. The heat can be a real problem if they are working in an enclosed area in the summer with no air conditioning. Fans help a lot. Make sure there is proper ventilation.”

While most people recognize that construction slows down in the winter months due to cold and rain, hot weather also has a big impact on productivity.

“Heat causes a lot of slow downs in the summer months,” Logan said. “It can be a real factor, and it can be a deadly factor. It is really difficult especially with the protective equipment that they have to wear. They also aren’t allowed to wear shorts or tank tops for safety reasons. All that makes it more difficult.”

Currier said one thing that the Center for Disease Control is recommending is using a buddy system when out in particularly hot weather. Since one of the symptoms of heat stroke can be confusion or dizziness, someone who is getting heat stroke might not recognize the symptoms. The buddy system is used to observe for problems like dizziness or confusion, as well as muscle cramps, profuse sweating and a really pale complexion.

While sweating cools the body, too much sweating can result in an inadequate fluid supply for blood that leads to a pale complexion.

People who spend their working hours outdoors may actually be better acclimated to the heat than people who stay indoors. It is common to see higher incidences of heat stroke up north than in the South. That is partly because most Southerners now have air conditioners, and are better prepared for extreme heat.

Electric suppliers in Mississippi said that, despite record demands for electricity, no problems are expected meeting the demand.

“This particular stretch, while it has been very hot in the Southeast and certainly in Mississippi, the rest of the country hasn’t experienced such dramatic heat,” said Kurt Brautigam, spokesman for Mississippi Power Company (MPC). “ So there has been power available to purchase from other regions.”

Brautigam said that Mississippi Power estimates peak demands, and then arranges to have excess capacity of 10% to 15% available in order to make certain that demands for electricity can be met.

MPC has set several new records for power consumption in July, and will likely see more records broken in August. Last year’s peak demand for electricity was in August.

“It will be a long summer,” Brautigam said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

About Becky Gillette

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