Global warming isn’t just tough on the polar icecaps. It can wreak havoc on your body – and even your business – as well.
In certain industries, such as construction and landscaping, employees are typically exposed to the elements when they work outside. For those working outdoors, the brutal heat of summer isn’t just uncomfortable, it can be downright dangerous. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an average of 30 workers die from heat stroke every year. And to help bring that number to zero, they’ve launched a new “Water. Rest. Shade.” campaign to help promote heat safety.
But beyond those three words, there are a lot of other things your business can do to beat the heat while working outside. Here are some tips for staying cool on the jobsite this summer.
Telling you to drink water while you’re outside during summer is about as obvious as telling you to wear a jacket when it’s cold during winter. And since we’re not your mom, we won’t waste your time dwelling on either. But there are some things about hydration to consider past ensuring your team is drinking enough water.
For instance, OSHA suggests drinking about a cup of water every 15 minutes, or roughly a quart an hour. Seems simple enough, but when you’re working hard, time feels different and often workers look up and realize they haven’t taken a drink in an hour. In extreme heat, set a timer every 15 minutes to stay hydrated.
Also, sports drinks might seem like a good idea, since you’re sweating like Cam Newton (just not bright green). Thing is: you’re not Cam Newton. At least not at work. Electrolyte replacement is great, but the massive amounts of sugars in those drinks will have you crashing by the end of the day. Get the electrolytes from fruit, nuts, or a smoothie instead, and use water to hydrate. Along the same lines, avoid caffeine, sodas, and other beverages that will dehydrate you.
Finally, many people believe salt tabs will help you stay hydrated on a hot job site. But again, work is not sports, and too much salt can cause nausea and vomiting, dehydrating you further. There’s enough salt in most meals to last you a strenuous workday so, unless directed by a doctor, stay away from the salt.
Schedule Your Day Accordingly
From 3 to 6 PM, you might as well just park yourself under a tree and throw on the drive-time hot mix, because it is just too darned hot to work. The problem, of course, it nobody’s giving you a three hour break during the hottest hours of the day. So how do you avoid beating yourself up?
Easy: Start early. And if you can’t start early enough to get in a full day before 3 PM, then look at what’s on the schedule for that day and do the most strenuous jobs first.
Wear Appropriate – or Special – Attire
Again, it’s fairly redundant to explain the importance of wearing loose-fitting, lightly colored clothing on the job site. And water-wicking fabrics like dri-fit have been popular in construction for a while.
But there are some other things you can wear to keep your core temperature down that might not be so obvious. Cooling vests – vests filled with liquid designed to stay cool and stored in a freezer – can make a huge difference. There are also hard hats on the market with cooling systems build in, essentially fans that blow cool air into the hat at select intervals. Necklace fans perform a similar function.
If you don’t want to go that high-tech, you can keep cool by putting moistened bandanas in the freezer and then on your head or neck.
Cool Your Body Down
It’s a common myth that going into air conditioning will ruin your acclimatization. It would take about a week of sitting in A/C to do that. And if that’s your plan, working in the heat won’t be a concern of yours for very long. So if there’s an air-conditioned trailer, van, or 7-11 that sells bottled water, take your breaks in there. The relief from the heat will revitalize your body.
Also, bring some portable fans, de-humidifiers and A/C units to job sites that are particularly strenuous, or where surfaces could become dangerously hot to handle.
Finally, cooling pulse points is the quickest way to get your core temperature down. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s simply applying something cold to areas where your blood runs closest to the surface of your skin. Putting ice on your wrists, temples, and face will cool you down remarkably fast. Lacking that, even cold water on your pulse points will do the trick.
Ramp Up to the Heat, and Take Breaks as Needed
If workers are new, and especially if they are new to the area, give them some time to get used to the heat. It can take 7-10 days for them to acclimatize, and you don’t want to wear them out too quickly. That’s not to say let them sit in the A/C all day, but give them less-strenuous jobs to begin with.
But all workers will need more breaks during hotter weather. If someone’s not looking good, or not feeling well, advise them to take some time off, and do the same yourself. Ten minutes of lost time is relatively forgettable, in the face of a worker suffering heat exhaustion.
Construction workers and landscapers are as known for their healthy diets as they are for their trendy choices in footwear. That is to say, not at all. But eating junk food, pizza, fried chicken, or any of the other high-salt, high-fat food they love is not helping anyone stay cool. The energy required to digest big meals takes away from the energy available to cool the body. So much as nobody wants to hear it, eating lighter foods more frequently is better for regulating body heat.
But since you’re scheduling more breaks anyway, taking those breaks to eat might be a wise decision.
We’re not saying do toe raises and crunches on the scaffolding. Aside from the perplexed looks it would get you from passers-by, it’s also not an effective use of work time. And while we know the first thing you want to do after spending ten hours working in the sun isn’t head to spin class, in the long run it will pay off.
Carrying extra weight means your body has to work harder to do everything, including staying cool. Staying in shape will keep your body temperature cooler, and create a more efficient process for regulating heat.
Educate Yourself and Your Team
OSHA actually has an app you can use to monitor heat indexes and give reminders about protective measures to take. Also, take the time as a group to talk about the signs of heatstroke, and let everyone know what to do if they start feeling symptoms. The more you know, the cooler you’ll remain, and the better you’ll work all summer long.