Applying Space Science to Combat Summer Heat

Each spring, Balfour Beatty teams across the US prepare their summer plans to protect workers from heat-related illnesses. 

This year, those plans have become more important than ever. 2019 has seen the hottest June on record, and scientists just announced that July was the warmest month on record (Washington Post, Aug 5, 2019). As summer heat still rages in many parts of the country, the northeast, southwest and parts of the west coast are expected to see hotter than average temperatures in August (The Weather Channel, July 31, 2019).

In preparation for the summer, Balfour Beatty team members in Texas have turned to NASA research to understand the effects on the human body of working in the heat. Texas Safety Health & Environment Director, Sean White, explained the science: 

“If you have been curious as to why it seems that when the temperature starts to soar people or yourself seem to become forgetful, slower, quickly irritated and generally not themselves, a study conducted by NASA explains why. The NASA study concluded that when the temperature is 95° F for an extended period, people can make 60 mistakes per hour – without realizing it. These usually start as small incidents such as repeatedly missing the head of a screw or loss of dexterity. These small, usually dismissed actions are the start of a cascading effect that gets worse with increased body temperature. When the ambient temperature reaches 95° F, almost half of the blood moves to the skin to produce moisture (in the form of perspiration) to naturally cool the body. The heart is pumping up to 150 beats per minute with less volume to get the blood to the skin. That means the rest of the organs, including the brain and muscles, are only operating on half the blood they normally need. This interferes with cognitive thinking skills and can provoke emotions such as anger – and even combative behavior.”

NASA’s research further stresses physical fitness and heat acclimation to stave off the effects of heat. Those who are physically active and acclimated to the heat are better able to combat its effects.

So, whether you are on a construction project in the peak of summer or at home mowing your grass, remember OSHA’s three words – Water, Rest, Shade and take the proper precautions to protect yourself in the heat.