Package Delivery in Scorching Heat

Package Delivery in Scorching Heat

The Harsh Reality of Working in Extreme Heat as a Delivery Driver

Delivery Driver

On a scorching summer day in Salem, Oregon, when the mercury hit a record-breaking high, FedEx driver Austin Trent found himself trapped in an oven-like, un-air-conditioned delivery truck. As the temperature outside reached a blistering 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees Celsius), the heat inside the truck became unbearable. Trent’s only source of relief, a small fan, had to be directed towards his navigation screen, resulting in a lack of respite for his own well-being. It didn’t take long before the extreme heat took its toll on him. Trent experienced tingling sensations in his hands and feet and the world seemed to fade away. Fearing the worst, he called for help and was rushed to an urgent care clinic where he was diagnosed with heat exhaustion and required IV treatment. Ever since that ordeal, Trent has developed a deep aversion to summertime, always apprehensive about the toll his work might take on his health.

Trent’s experience is not isolated. Delivery drivers across the United States share similar stories of working tirelessly in scorching conditions without adequate relief. While office workers and digital shoppers enjoy the luxury of air-conditioned workspaces, drivers who tirelessly transport packages often find themselves without such luxuries. Many of them operate vehicles without air-conditioning, making their work environment a searing hell.

Viviana Gonzalez, a UPS driver in Palmdale, California, recounts the misery endured by her colleagues in the unforgiving heat. Just recently, two of her coworkers ended up hospitalized due to heat stress, experiencing symptoms such as vomiting and muscle cramps. The Teamsters union, to which Gonzalez belongs, reached a tentative agreement with UPS to equip all new vehicles purchased after January 1, 2024, with air-conditioning. However, until that relief arrives, the drivers are left at the mercy of scorching temperatures. Gonzalez, well aware of the dangers, keeps a digital thermometer in her cargo hold, which can be a staggering 35 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the outside. She understands the importance of finding packages quickly, as staying exposed to the heat for too long can cause heart palpitations and other serious health issues.

The situation becomes even more dire for delivery drivers contracted by Amazon. In Palmdale, these drivers have been on strike since June, protesting against the absence of bargaining with their union. Broken air-conditioning in company-leased vans has been a major point of contention. Rajpal Singh, one of the drivers on strike, recalls the difficulties workers faced as the Californian heat took its toll. In fact, one driver even ended up in the hospital due to heat exhaustion. The lack of federal standards to protect workers from extreme temperatures exacerbates the problem. Only a few states have laws in place mandating protection measures like acclimatization periods for new workers, access to cool water and shade, and additional breaks during extreme heat. Recognizing the need for action, President Joe Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to draft a nationwide heat standard in 2021. However, this process takes time, and it could be several years before tangible results are seen.

From muscle cramping to organ failure or even death, heat stress can lead to a range of symptoms. Workers, such as delivery drivers, are at particular risk due to a combination of environmental heat and physical exertion. The brain can be negatively affected by high temperatures, hindering its ability to regulate body temperature effectively. Factors like humidity further impede the body’s natural cooling mechanisms by inhibiting sweat evaporation. This can turn a challenging work environment into a life-threatening situation.

According to an analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration data by The Washington Post, seven delivery drivers died from heat stress between 2017 and 2022. Delivery drivers rank fifth among heat-related workplace deaths, outranked only by construction, agriculture, landscaping, and roofing occupations. The lack of air-conditioning at home, which disproportionately affects lower-wage workers, compounds the problem further. Without the ability to cool down after their shifts, these workers face the risk of serious illness or even death.

In the absence of robust protections, delivery drivers face an uphill battle to stay safe in the heat. The three essential pillars of heat protection – water, shade, and rest – are often hard to come by in their line of work. Seeking refuge in air-conditioned businesses presents its own set of challenges, as drivers can face criticism or hostility from others who fail to understand the severity of their working conditions. For Viviana Gonzalez, sticking to a Carl’s Jr. fast food restaurant has become a refuge from judgmental remarks. The need for stronger legal protections for workers toiling in extreme heat is evident.

Fortunately, progress is being made in some states. Last summer, a series of heat-related hospitalizations among UPS drivers in New York prompted the introduction of a bill to protect workers from extreme heat. Dubbed the Temperature Extreme Mitigation Program (TEMP Act), it aims to establish standards and requirements for employers to protect workers from the impacts of extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. If passed, it would be the first law of its kind in the nation to safeguard workers from both extreme heat and cold. This comprehensive approach recognizes that workers’ safety should not be limited to just one extreme weather condition.

As the effects of climate change become increasingly pronounced and extreme weather events become more frequent, it is crucial to prioritize the well-being of workers in all industries, including delivery drivers. They face unique challenges as they navigate scorching temperatures day in and day out. The provision of air-conditioned vehicles, improved access to water and shade, and regular breaks should not be seen as optional perks but as essential components of ensuring the safety and health of these essential workers. By implementing proper protections and legislation, we can create a future where no worker’s life is endangered by the heat they face on the job.

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