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Ask risk managers in the southern half of the United States how things are going in their neck of the woods, and that's the answer. Not much else; it's just plain hot.
As they limp into the dog days of summer, employers across the South are continuing the fight to protect man, beast and property from the relentless summer sun.
A heat wave that found a home in north Texas has baked Dallas with high temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit for more than three weeks. From Florida to Colorado, incessant heat and drought conditions have ruined crops and left forests tinder-dry and burning from wildfires. The heat is blamed for more than 100 deaths across the South.
Employers are keeping their workers cool by urging outdoor workers to drink enough fluids and take breaks in the shade. Risk managers have to be especially careful about the risk of fire when landscaping near facilities is bone dry. Zoos are making sure their animals and workers are protected from the searing sun.
Keeping workers cool is the biggest concern employers have during a prolonged heat spell.
Most manufacturing processes are done inside, where materials are protected by climate-controlled environments. While the leather and other materials used to make boots at Justin Industries Inc.'s footwear operations are unaffected by what's going on outside, many of the Fort Worth, Texas-based company's workers at its brick- and block-making plants are subject to the weather's ill effects.
The heat is "a concern to those of us who have employees working in non-environmentally controlled climates," said Jim Green, risk manager at Justin. "We are taking extra precautions" to make sure workers who spend time outdoors get enough water and replacement-fluid drinks, he noted.
Mr. Green said that as of last week no Justin workers had suffered heat-related illnesses.
Employees of Carlo Ditta Inc. also have held up well, according to John J. Uhl, vp at the New Orleans concrete company. "Most of these guys are pretty tough. Generally speaking, if a man is in good physical shape, he shouldn't have any problem."
Carlo Ditta employees get periodic reminders at safety meetings to stay hydrated in the heat, Mr. Uhl said
Other employers issue similar warnings. "We've had several meetings on the heat," said Guy Albanese, safety manager for T.D. Industries, a Dallas-based construction subcontractor.
"We go over the signs and symptoms" of heat-related illness and "make sure people can determine when others are in trouble," he added. "Construction workers are kind of macho," Mr. Albanese said, and some tend to overwork unless a co-worker urges them to slow down.
T.D. Industries issues its workers special collars that can be soaked in water and worn around the neck. Water-soaked pads also can be inserted into hard hats. Work starts at 6 a.m. for most T.D. Industries workers and ends around 2: 30 p.m. Roof work always is stopped at noon.
"We supply (workers) with cotton shirts, which are cooler," said Bob Lowe, vp and production manager at T.D. Industries. "And we've purchased lots of fans," which are taken to construction sites and can be used in closed or other hot areas.
Some operations -- concrete companies, for example -- have to account for the heat in their production processes.
Carlo Ditta is mixing an icy concrete cocktail in its trucks as a way to keep the product from drying too fast. "The heat affects the product quality," explained Mr. Uhl. "The setting time is accelerated a lot."
To cool things down, the company mixes ice with the concrete on some jobs and on long hauls in the hot sun. "We make 75 tons of ice a day," according to Mr. Uhl, adding that the ice mixture is a common practice among concrete companies during hot summers.
Droughts are producing conditions that put property at risk for some businesses, an insurer points out. When forests and landscapes dry out, fire becomes a concern for property owners, according to Fred Palmer, vp and manager of staff operations at Factory Mutual in Norwood, Mass. Any business that stores lumber or any type of material that will burn outside should "make sure it is well away from the building," Mr. Palmer advised.
He pointed out that droughts strain water supplies, and that risk managers should bear in mind that low water pressure could mean sprinkler systems will not operate properly. If water pressure is low, any operations involving work that could spark a fire should be halted, Mr. Palmer advised.
In Fort Worth, strains on water supplies have been blamed for two major breaks on the same water main. Increased demand meant pressure built until the line broke. And in Dallas, more lines have broken this year than during a normal summer, according to Robert Gardner, assistant director of Dallas Water Utilities.
While the breaks in Dallas have not been as dramatic as those in Fort Worth, they, too, are occurring because of increased demand, said Mr. Gardner. Dallas' water lines have pumped record amounts this year, up to 696 million gallons per day. "As pumpage goes up, it requires more pressure to get the water through the pipes," Mr. Gardner explained. Pipes then began to "pull apart and break at the joints," he said.
The heat and drought are costing farmers and ranchers billions of dollars. The Texas Agricultural Extension Service estimates the crop damage and loss of profits on livestock in the state total about $1.5 billion.
Texas cotton farmers are hardest hit, losing $500 million so far. Corn losses have reached $225 million, and sorghum losses are at $140 million.
Federal crop insurance is available to farmers, "so farmers do have some insurance," said Carl Anderson, an agricultural economist with Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. However, he added, the coverage usually pays far less than total losses.
Ranchers losing money because of reduced prices for underfed cattle and additional feedstock costs probably aren't covered for those losses. For livestock, "there's not much insurance that I'm aware of," Mr. Anderson said.
But animals at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans are getting special treatment during the hot summer days. "We've given them open house, where they can be in their night houses if they prefer," said a zoo spokeswoman. "We have sprinklers on, so they can get wet if they want to."
"We also offer them frozen treats," she said. Primates get frozen treats made of electrolyte drinks. "The carnivores get frozen chicken and meat; we call them 'blood pops.' "
Zoo workers are wearing new hats this year that can be worn wet.