June is just around the corner, and temperatures are beginning to heat up. Before you know it, we'll be in the dog days of summer with a great tan and long hours of daylight. While the summer is a beautiful and productive time for working outdoors, it can also be dangerous on extremely hot days. The best thing to do is to go to work prepared and understand your limits for exertion. Below are some tips to help you keep cool, avoid heat stroke, and maintain comfort throughout the day.
While this may seem like a no-brainer, it's not always so simple. If we took a survey of road workers, we're pretty sure that most of them would absolutely love to show up to work with a t-shirt and shorts. However, due to their work environment (i.e. heavy equipment, rough terrain, hot asphalt and an array of grinding and cutting equipment) it's not safe or realistic to do so. The best option is to purchase proper garments that provide the necessary level of safety while helping to reduce heat build-up. Mesh safety shirts (instead of safety vests worn over a shirt), moisture-wicking headwear or specialty cooling gear such as the EZ-Cool Phase Change Cooling Vest will make your life much, much easier. Avoid dark colors, unnecessary layers and fabrics that don't breathe well. If you can't avoid light clothing due to heavy protective gear, you'll definitely need to invest in some sort of cooling technology. While it might be expensive, it's worth the price to avoid health issues and maintain a comfortable undergarment environment.
It's easy for the body to heat up rapidly under extreme temperatures, sometimes to the point where we cannot cool ourselves quick enough. Be wary of overexertion and know your personal limits. Even the most physically fit can suffer sudden heat-related issues with little to no warning under the right circumstance. You might find that you're blood is pumping heavily, your heart is beating rapidly and you're breathing heavily - which is fine under normal environments. But couple those with temperatures in the upper 90s or higher and it's a recipe for disaster. Sometimes, we can't perspire quick enough or lack sufficient fluids to maintain our pace and before we know it we find ourselves overwhelmed and in danger of heat stroke. It's best to rest as needed and refrain from pushing yourself in extreme temperatures.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Did we mention that you should hydrate? We actually can't say this enough. While you probably start your day with a cup of coffee, you'd be smart to follow it with a sufficient amount of water. Starting out your day without proper hydration can be a recipe for disaster halfway through the day. By the time you begin to sweat heavily, there won't be enough water in your system to maintain proper cooling. Even if you begin to over hydrate, you won't be able to replenish yourself to the proper level without some sort of bloating, fatigue, or increased body temperature. Be sure to have plenty of hydrating fluids available on the job and sip it regularly. One great idea is to freeze a gallon bottle of water in your freezer overnight and take it with you to work. As long as it's kept protected from the sun, you'll have ice cold water for hours on end. Another option is to invest in a hydration system such as the Ergodyne Low Profile Hydration Pack. Water makes up a large part of our bodies and it's crucial to keep proper levels.
Rest as Needed and Seek Shade
When it's 100+ degrees, there's really no safe way to work outside. If you're not presenting yourself to the risk of sunburn, surely you're exposing yourself to temperatures where the human body has a tough time performing at it's best. In combination with setting a proper pace, it's highly important to rest at specific intervals. If you're digging holes in direct sunlight, set yourself to a 3 hole maximum before seeking a short break. Of course, this will depend on the the size of the holes, but we're just trying to give a basic example. When resting, locking your fingers above your head creates minor expansion in the lungs, allowing you to process as much air as possible. This can help you cool at a quicker rate. While it's difficult to give perfect examples because of different tasks, different environments and varying degrees of exertion required on a given job, it's safe to say that you need to listen to your body. If you're heating up or if you need to catch your breath, than take a break and hydrate until your body says you're okay to continue. If the job site is large with very little or no cover from the sun, consider utilizing a portable shade tent for a break & hydration area.
There you have it! Dress accordingly, stay hydrated, pace yourself and break regularly. You might want to organize a specific plan with your boss, employees or co-workers for handling the extreme heat. Nobody wants to suffer from heat stress or encounter heat stroke. The best kind of worker is a productive worker and while the heat makes it difficult, there are several ways to organize and optimize for productivity during extremely hot weather.