UC San Diego

More heat, more often: UC San Diego scientists discuss impacts of rising temperatures

Among the topics covered were who the heat is impacting the most and how we can better deal with it in the workplace

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Extreme heat is an escalating threat to our health, infrastructure, economy and overall wellbeing. That's why UC San Diego scientists hosted a research roundtable on Tuesday, detailing the various aspects of rising temperatures.

Low-income communities and older adults more impacted by heat

One of the biggest takeaways from UCSD's panel of scientific experts is that there are serious heat inequities, especially with regards to socioeconomics and age. Low-income, poorer communities and older adults are negatively impacted by heat more than anyone else.

Both of those groups are less likely to have air conditioning, which the lack of air conditioning is a huge factor in heat-related illness.

Hot houses, apartments or places of residence cause all sorts of heat-related illnesses in all ages. But with seniors, heat exhaustion, strokes and falls from the heat increase when temperatures rise.

Lower income, under-resourced communities are often in urban areas, which can turn into heat islands with all that concentration of concrete and lack of shade radiating heat and increasing temperatures. Those increased temperatures serve to amplify heat-related problems.

How heat affects worker production

Another big takeaway from UCSD's roundtable is that environmental stressors due to heat are detrimental to worker production.

A recent study by the State Insurance Department estimated that extreme heat cost California $7.7 billion in the last decade. Most of that cost was in emergency health response, but a large part was also in damaged work environment and productivity loss.

To combat the latter, UCSD scientists suggested the following workplace recommendations for dealing with increasing temperatures: rest breaks, cool breaks, hydration and working in the shade.

If you have to work outside in the sun, UCSD suggested employers give employees time to get used to the heat, let their bodies assimilate to the extreme conditions with a gradual ramp up work policy.

According to UCSD's research, if employers enact these policies, they'll see long-term benefits that actually save money, including increased worker productivity once workers get past that initial acclimation period.

UCSD is also stressing that hotter heat waves are the new normal. Over the last four decades, heat waves in California have risen in frequency, intensity and duration.

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