Working in the heat

By Sandi Soendker, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

On July 10, 1980, 52-year-old Willie Jones of Atlanta was admitted to the hospital in a coma during a severe heat wave. According to The Associated Press, he was a “human torch” with a temperature of 115.7 degrees. He spent 24 days in the hospital and completely recovered. Grady Memorial Hospital submitted it to the Guinness Book of World Records for highest recorded body temperature.

It’s unclear what Willie did for a living, but various tasks associated with your job truck driving can put you at risk in extreme temperatures. You’re unloading your trailer in Phoenix and it’s 115 degrees. You can drink lots of water, dress for it, try to stay in the shade, but you just can’t cool off.

What kind of weather endangers people more than any other? Heat. What happens when we have to endure it to do our jobs? What can a normal person tolerate?

There are plenty of factors and lots of studies. Maybe you’ve done a study of your own, like frying an egg on the asphalt in Walcott, Iowa, in July, or securing a load in Atlanta during a heat wave. Let’s look at a few other examples. When the temperature you are working in hits 90 degrees, the National Aeronautic Space Administration has discovered that the accuracy of your work decreases by 300 percent. When the thermometer hits 95 degrees, your work output, or productivity, drops by 45 percent.

According to the Department of Labor, if the body cannot cool down or dispose of excess heat, it will store it. When this happens, the body’s core temperature rises and the heart rate increases. Body temperature can rise to 105 degrees if one is working outside in a heat wave. As the body continues to store heat, the individual begins to lose concentration and has difficulty focusing on a task, may become irritable or sick, and often loses the desire to drink. The next stage is most often fainting, and death is possible if the person is not removed from the heat stress.

According to, most people will suffer hyperthermia after 10 minutes in extreme humidity and heat.

When your body temperature rises to about 104 degrees, you’re crossing the danger threshold. Seizures may occur. Multiple organ failure can happen. Death usually occurs when body temperature reaches 107.6.

Heat wave: Hydration facts

Stay hydrated. You’ve heard it every time the temp goes beyond 90 degrees. You know it means to drink plenty of water because when it’s hot you lose fluids. What you may not know is that if you don’t replace it, your body no longer has enough fluid to (here’s the critical part) get blood to your brain, your muscles, your organs.

How much water (the best choice)? OSHA recommends four cups of water every hour when the heat index is more than 103 degrees F.

Can you overdo the water? Surprise. Yes you can. While proper hydration after exercise is important, taking in excessive amounts of water is extremely dangerous. Drinking too much may lead to a condition called “water intoxication.” The out-of-balance electrolytes cause sodium levels in the blood to drop too low.

When overhydration affects brain cells, headache, confusion, convulsions, coma (and death, although rare) may result. A notorious example is the 28-year-old California woman who drank nearly 2 gallons of water in a three-hour period during a radio contest. She later collapsed and died from water intoxication.

Sources: National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautic Space Administration, Center for Disease Control, National Weather Service, WebMD, Associated Press, Mayo Clinic, OSHA, Department of Labor, and John McElligott, M.D.,Occupational Health Systems of Knoxville, Tenn. LL