As temperatures rise across the globe and heat waves become more common, their impact on businesses is evident. A sudden rise in temperature has ramifications for operations across several industries, as well as posing workplace safety risks in the form of heat stroke – especially for outdoor industries like construction.
Heat waves are an unavoidable reality, which is why it is important to understand the causes and effects of these disasters. That way, you can safeguard your business as much as possible with several heat wave safety tips.
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What is a heat wave?
Heat waves are noticeable rises in temperature that last for at least two days, and sometimes more. Week-long heat waves in states like Texas and Arizona have led to heat advisory warnings. Heat waves have spiked in frequency since the start of the 21st century</b>; between 2000 and 2016, there was an increase of 125 million people exposed to heat waves.
In order to be called a heat wave, conditions must be unusually warm relative to normal temperatures in the given area. Heat warning events are caused by accumulated trapped air. Air typically circulates around the globe, but occasionally builds up in one place. High-pressure systems keep the air from moving, and then that air warms due to sunlight.
Heat waves are not only more frequent than they were, they’re also more severe, thanks to climate change. The Earth’s warming has prompted several new temperature records, which have been set and exceeded many times over. Moreover, heat records in the United States outnumber cold records nearly 10:1.
In addition to warmer weather, more frequent heat waves also mean that the hot season arrives sooner. In 2023, the western Mediterranean was struck by an April heat wave two months before temperatures typically rise. Such an event would have been 100 times less likely to occur without climate change.
What is a heat wave’s impact on businesses?
Heat advisories and heat waves disrupt normal business operations in a variety of ways. Transportation, shipping, air travel, and more slow down when temperatures exceed normal levels. Heat waves are a problem not only for individual businesses, but also for other businesses within their supply chain
When estimating the effects of a heat warning, longevity is more important than raw heat.
One industry heavily impacted by heat waves is agriculture. When a heat warning is issued, it signifies an uncommonly dry period. The prevalence of droughts, especially at times when they are unexpected, means a greater demand for water and irrigation. If there isn’t enough water available, the heat wave could lead to crop damage, dry soil, and less reproduction.
Utility companies are hit hard whenever there is a heat wave. Spikes in warmth mean power shortages and blackouts. In 2020, 400,000 homes in California were left without power for 2 and a half hours per blackout. Heat waves affect renewable energy especially severely, because solar panels that get too hot:
- Operate less efficiently
- Become more expensive to use
- Have reduced capacity
Solar panels are also affected by the lack of rainfall, since they use wet cooling systems to run smoothly. Dry conditions also lower the output of wind turbines.
Commercial transportation, like trucking, air travel, and maritime shipping, is disrupted when there is a heat wave. Perishable goods like produce and medical supplies which need to be stored at a certain temperature run the risk of being spoiled in the heat, so there could be delays in delivery.
Warmer temperatures also impact the vehicles involved. Intense heat can drastically increase the temperatures of roads and tires, which interferes with tire performance. And the faster you drive in a heat wave, the more likely your engine is to fail. Avoiding vehicle breakdowns means slowing down, which adds delivery time – which is even riskier if goods are perishable.
Higher temperatures can make it difficult for some aircraft to fly. Because hot air is thinner, planes need more power and thus more fuel to take off. That means flight schedules need to be adjusted so they coincide with cooler times of day.
The impact of heat waves on construction work has more to do with heat wave effects on humans than machinery. Increased temperatures mean workers who are outside all day are at greater risk of sun damage, which can escalate to hospitalization in cases of heat stroke. These risks have prompted OSHA to draw up new standards for construction in extreme heat.
The blistering heat forces construction workers to alter their work schedules. Finishing work in extreme heat is dangerous because many of the materials involved, like metal bits or asphalt, can absorb heat and become a burn risk. And elevated altitudes can be hazards during a heat wave, since heat exhaustion increases the chance of falling.
How can you address heat wave effects?
To address the impact of a heat wave, you need to think about your workers and your business. Protecting your workers during a heat wave means making sure to follow these heat wave safety tips. Give your employees the care they deserve by:
- Helping them stay hydrated
- Providing them with or advising them to wear light-colored clothing
- Giving them breaks when possible
- Schedule work during cooler times of day
- Preventing too much direct sun exposure, i.e. with hats
- Help your workers cool of periodically, with fans or damp cloths
Minimizing the impact of heat advisory events also means watching for signs of heat exhaustion, which are:
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Elevated body temperature
- Flushed complexion
- Clammy skin
It’s essential that you monitor these things, so that heat-related illness doesn’t persist and turn into heat stroke. Heat stroke can be fatal.
From a business perspective, addressing heat waves is about reducing losses that may result. Since you know the causes of heat waves, it’s a good idea to monitor weather conditions in your area. Weather intelligence software will issue heat warnings in real time so that you’ll have as much time as possible to prepare.
This kind of technology also helps you plan transportation, shipping, and delivery schedules, so that you lose as little time as possible due to the heat. Knowing when and where heat waves will impact your operations allows you to design an alternative operating plan.
You can codify these plans as digital checklists so that you’ll be able to use them during future heat waves. With a mobile inspection app like Lumiform, you can check to make sure your business has properly implemented heat advisory measures, as well as keep workers safe by applying the above heat wave safety tips.