How Arizona’s outdoor workers stay safe in the heat

PHOENIX – Avoiding hot summer temperatures is impossible for Arizonans who make their living beneath the scorching sun. Earlier this month, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, introduced a bill that would establish a federal safety standard for workers who labor in the heat, both inside and outdoors.

The bill is named after Asunción Valdivia, a California farmworker who died in 2004 after picking grapes on a 10-hour shift in 105-degree heat.

If adopted, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would limit the amount of time workers are exposed to high heat and require those workers be given paid breaks to cool down and drink water.

In Arizona, the number of heat-related illnesses skyrockets during summer months and has continued to increase year-over-year, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. In 2018, heat-related illnesses accounted for 2,898 of the 2,990 emergency-room visits statewide from April to September. ER visits peaked in July, with 941 visits.

Without federal or state mandated protections, we asked some of Arizona’s high-heat workers how they stay safe under the sun.

Cover up to stay cool

“Wear long sleeves. … When you sweat, it keeps you cool.”
Brandon Moles, 38
Apprentice electrician

Don’t eat heavy meals

“Vegetables and fruits are always good. … If you eat a big lunch, you’ll feel it.”
John Travez, 28
Layout technician, Suntec Concrete

Take lots of breaks

“When it’s hot, take about five- or 10-minute breaks every hour.”
Francisco Leon, 41
Co-owner, Commercial Property Landscaping Group LLC

Make sure to hydrate

We have Thermaflasks for all the employees to remind them to drink water.”
Christian Kovacevick, 32
Clean Freak Car Wash employee

Get innovative with your gear

“Take lunch ice packs and put them down your shirt or into bulletproof vests.”
Sgt. Vince Lewis
Phoenix Police Department

Bring a change of socks

“The biggest secret is having a change of socks to keep your feet dry throughout the day. … If your feet are itchy … it sets off the rest of you.”
Daniel Roddy, 54
Park manager, Lake Havasu State Park

In extreme situations, call for help

“Our rehab truck is a utility truck where (firefighters) get fluids, they get their vital signs taken. If we have to, we’ll give them an IV and take them to the hospital.”
Don Jongewaard, 50
President, Tempe Firefighters Union

Video by Taniyah Williamson/Cronkite News

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