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Heat waves perilous for delivery truck drivers

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A UPS driver in a delivery truck.

UPS drivers, represented by the Teamsters, have been calling for better heat safety measures, including air conditioning in trucks. Alex Wong/Getty Images

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Parts of California and the Pacific Northwest are expecting another record-breaking heat wave this week, with temperatures well into the triple digits. A new analysis from The Washington Post projects that by midcentury, temperatures topping 100 degrees could persist for weeks on end in many areas of the country.

Extreme heat is already taking a toll on many workers — and not just those who spend all day in the sun. Recently, heat safety issues have sparked demonstrations by delivery drivers.

The workday of a package delivery driver is never easy. High temperatures and humidity don’t help.

“Truthfully, it’s pretty hellish,” said UPS driver Matt Leichenger.

He said his 10-hour day starts in the back of the truck, where he spends up to an hour organizing the cargo. That area can reach 120 to 130 degrees.

Then he’s running packages — cumulatively weighing hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds a day. 

“Like, drenched in sweat. Sweat getting in my eyes,” he said.

Since July, UPS drivers, represented by the Teamsters labor union, have been calling for better heat safety measures, including air conditioning in trucks. In a statement, UPS said trucks make frequent stops and the doors are constantly opened, making AC inefficient. The company said it installs fans and provides safety training, stressing rest and hydration.

But the solo nature of the work increases the risks, said Thomas Bernard, a professor at the University of South Florida.

“A serious heat-related disorder may not actually be recognized by the individual,” Bernard said. “And heat stroke is really a life-threatening medical emergency.” 

He added that the effects of high temperatures day after day build up.

Which makes the prospect of more frequent extreme heat all the more concerning, said Jisung Park, a labor economist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who found that workplace injuries increase by 15% on the hottest days.

“One way to think about heat and climate change generally is as a potential threat multiplier,” Park said.

Jobs that include already challenging tasks — like lifting heavy objects or driving all day — will only become more taxing.

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