Oppressive heat continues to grip the region, making for miserable and even dangerous conditions for people who work outdoors and low-income individuals who live in urban heat islands.
“Brutal. It’s just brutal,” said Sean Pait, who works construction in Dorchester and says he has an admittedly informal system for keeping cool during a relentless series of “scorchas.”
“Just a wet towel on my head and keep squirting myself with water,” he explained, wiping sweat from his forehead as he left a job site on Dorchester Avenue Thursday afternoon under a bright sun.
Excessive heat is a major occupational hazard and even killer, warn labor advocates like Jodi Sugarman-Brozan, executive director of Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health. Particularly in the face of the pandemic and hotter and more frequent days of extreme heat, local groups are changing their approaches on how they help residents and workers cool.
To prevent injuries and even deaths in a warming climate, Sugarman-Brozan’s Dorchester-based organization recently developed new heat stress training for workers.
“If you know the early symptoms and you’re able to ensure that you’re getting rest, water, shade and getting the emergency attention that might be needed, you can prevent the much worse scenarios of heat — stroke and death,” she said.
She recommends that all employers have an emergency plan and, during such high temperatures, workers should use a buddy system to keep an eye on each other.
The heat and lingering pandemic are also colliding to change the safest and most popular ways to cool.
“This week has been a prime example of extreme weather hitting our communities,” said Rev. Vernon K. Walker, program director of the Cambridge-based nonprofit Communities Responding to Extreme Weather.
“These heat waves will become longer in duration and more frequent,” Walker said, pointing to a study from the Union of Concerned Scientists that show Massachusetts could see more than 26 days per year that feel hotter than 100 degrees by the end of the century. By then, they predict Boston will feel more like Birmingham, Ala.
Over the weekend, Walker’s organization is partnering with the Authentic Caribbean Foundation and the Barr Foundation to give out energy-efficient air conditioners at the East Side Plaza in Brockton. CREW has already distributed units this summer to low-income communities in Dorchester, the South End and Mattapan.
Fueled by the pandemic, Walker’s organization has been distributing more than 100 air conditioners each year, ever since the summer of 2020 when the pandemic shut down cooling centers across the region.
“It was dangerous for people to be together in the same room without a mask on before the vaccine,” Walker said. “That caused municipalities to close cooling centers, pools and splash pads.”
Looking forward, Walker said it’s critical individuals and families can cool down and get relief.
“Extreme heat is the leading killer among all other extreme weather events,” he said.