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3 kinds of weather perilous to driver health

Tips for protecting truckers’ physical wellness while on the road

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Truck drivers are used to thinking about how weather will affect road conditions on their routes. But drivers should also understand how weather may impact their overall health. They should listen to their bodies and pay attention to official weather alerts for extreme heat, cold and poor air quality.

Excessive heat

Excessive heat can put a lot of stress on a driver’s body. During extremely hot and humid weather, it’s more difficult for the body to cool itself. Body temperature rises, creating the risk of a heat-related illness. This probably affects flatbed drivers more than any other kind because they can spend hours outside their trucks tying and tarping down loads.

High heat has been the No. 1 cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S. over the past 30 years, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Excessive heat killed an average of 138 people each year from 1990 to 2019 — twice as many as tornadoes.

Drivers should know the following signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, respectively:

• Feeling faint or dizzy/throbbing headache.
• Excessive sweating/no sweating.
• Cool, pale, clammy skin/red, hot, dry skin; body temperature above 103 degrees
• Nausea or vomiting/Nausea or vomiting
• Rapid, weak pulse/Rapid, strong pulse
• Muscle cramps/Loss of consciousness

Ways to prevent extreme heat as well as other safety tips can be found here.

Intense cold

Arctic air, together with brisk winds, can lead to dangerous wind chills. Drivers exposed to extreme cold while strapping down loads or chaining up during snowfall can become susceptible to frostbite or hypothermia in a matter of minutes.

(Photo: Oregon DOT)

They should watch for the following signs of frostbite if stuck outside their trucks for even a short period of time:

First degree: Ice crystals are forming on your skin.
Second degree: Skin begins to feel warm even though it is not yet defrosted.
Third degree: Skin turns red, pale or white.
Fourth degree: Pain lasts for more than a few hours and skin may develop dark blue or black coloration. At this stage, gangrene is a real threat. See a doctor immediately.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a total of 16,911 deaths in the United States — an average of 1,301 per year — were associated with exposure to excessive natural cold.

Frostbite prevention and first-aid tips can be found here.

Bad air quality

During heat waves when the wind is calm and the air is stagnant, ozone and particulate matter can become trapped in the lower atmosphere. This can produce poor air quality that can last for days, and can impact healthy drivers as well as those with preexisting respiratory and heart conditions.

Even low concentrations of ground-level ozone (O3) can trigger a variety of health problems, such as lung irritation and inflammation, asthma attacks, wheezing, coughing, and increased vulnerability to respiratory illnesses.

Particulate matter (PM), or airborne particles, includes dust, dirt, soot and smoke. Some particles are directly emitted into the air by cars, trucks, buses, factories, construction sites and wood burning. Other particles form in the air when gases from burning fuels react with sunlight and water vapor. This pollution can cause chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, decreased lung function, coughing, painful breathing, cardiac problems and heart attacks.

Poor air quality is responsible for an estimated 60,000 premature deaths in the United States each year, according to the NWS.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.