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Working in the Heat: How Outdoor Workers Can Stay Cool This Summer

05/18/2020 by Kyle Greco

Whether you own a landscaping, masonry, or some other outdoor-based business, the summer months are an important time for you. The weeks fill up fast with work, making it the perfect time for your business to shine.

But it also means taking extra care of your employees. Working out in the elements always carries some risk, but the elevated temperatures of July and August only increase the potential for danger.

Do you know what it takes to keep your workers cool?

Are there OSHA Temperature Regulations?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have an overarching standard for people working outside in hot weather. But under labor law the OSH Act, it is the employer’s responsibility to protect their workers from “recognized serious hazards.” 

So, when your employees work outside in hot conditions, you need to have a heat illness prevention plan in place. Every plan should have these five elements as the baseline for keeping your workers happy and healthy. 

Ensure Everyone Stays Hydrated

Drinking water is the subject of some great memes, but the message behind them is actually really important, especially for people working in the sun. 

Dehydration is one of the biggest health hazards for people working outdoors. If they don’t drink enough water, they’ll be less productive at best and sick enough to go to the hospital at worst. 

Symptoms of Dehydration

-Lack of energy

-Irritability

-Rapid breathing or heartbeat

-Feeling dizzy

-Dry skin

-Fainting

-Not urinating

It’s not difficult to give your workers easy access to fluids. Give each of your project managers a multi-gallon jug (think: the kind coaches get a Gatorade bath with) of clean, cool water before every shift. 

 

A worker may outwardly appear fine, but could still be dehydrated.

 

See to it that your workers are given opportunities to replenish their bodies with the things they lose from sweat. Help them restore themselves with the salt and potassium they lose through sweating by packing a cooler full of sports drinks and electrolyte solutions for each team. Ensure there is enough for everybody, and encourage your crew to drink regularly.

Give Time for Regular Breaks

When you’re exposed to high temperatures, your body works harder just to do the simple things. Considering the fact that your workers will exert themselves in the heat, it would be shortsighted not to adopt a different rhythm to the summer workday. 

Some teams prefer to start early, and stop just before the hottest part of the day (around 3pm). Other teams don’t have that kind of flexibility. Regardless, all outdoor work crews should take regular breaks during the workday to better manage the stress that heat puts on their bodies.

Note that a break doesn’t mean “work on something else.” It doesn’t necessarily mean “drive to the next location,” either. In order for your crew to operate at their best in extreme conditions, they need time to recharge. So get them out of the sun (something we’ll discuss in a bit) and over to the water jug.

How long should a break be? There is no baseline answer. It depends on how hot and humid it is, what the air quality is like, what type of personal protective equipment (PPE) is required for the job.

General Heat Safety Guidelines to Follow for Taking Breaks

Shorter periods of exposure are better than longer ones. You can base break times on one-hour cycles– i.e. for every one hour of work, give the workers a 15-minute rest period.

When to increase rest time:

-With rising temperatures

-With rising humidity

-With decreased air movement

-When protective gear is being worn

-During heavier projects

 

The more protective gear being worn, the longer the break should be.

 

Don’t pressure them to end their break early. Remember, health comes before efficiency. When your workers are healthy, your business is healthy, because they make your business happen–  not just today and tomorrow, but over seasons and years.

Create Plenty of Shade

When your crew needs a break, It isn’t enough for them just to stop working. They also need to get out of the sun.

But you can’t expect every jobsite to have a great big shade tree for your workers to hang out under. You’ll have to make shade yourself. Pop-up tents are a great way to create shade, as they’re easily portable, and not difficult to set up, either. Ones that fold up can be stored in the work trailer or in the back of one of your work vehicles.

 

A lack of shade can pose a real problem for outdoor workers.

 

Look for a utility tent that’s durable enough to withstand at least a summer’s worth of everyday use. It should be big enough for each crew member to fit under comfortably. That’s where you can put the water jug, coolers, towels, or anything else that might offer a bit of relief to your workers.

Monitor Your Workers for Heat Stress Symptoms

No matter what field you’re in, working outside is a tough job for people who pride themselves on their toughness. No worker wants to be seen as the ‘weak link’ of the group. That means unless you have a tight-knit crew, it’s unlikely that a worker will let on if they’re feeling unwell. 

Your managers will need to keep a close eye on them to see if they’re exhibiting signs of heat stress. They’ll need to be especially watchful toward new workers, as well as those who may not be used to the conditions.

 

Help prevent heat-related illnesses with constant communication.

 

Those workers should be given lighter workloads and longer rest periods. You can gradually increase their workload as they become more acclimatized over time.

There are a variety of symptoms to look for to identify if someone is having a heat-related emergency. They range from hot and dry skin, to confusion, to muscle spasms. 

If one of your workers is showing heat stress symptoms, have a plan in place to address their needs immediately. Mild symptoms might be a matter of letting them sit or lie down in a cool and shady area, while more severe cases will require you to head to the emergency room or call 911.

Don’t forget to utilize the elements you have on hand to help the ill worker recuperate. The first aid kits you keep on-site should contain ice packs, which will help them get back to a safe and comfortable temperature.

Equip Them With the Right Gear

It can’t be stressed enough: your workers need to dress for the weather. Fabric technology has come a long way since the days when a cotton t-shirt and jeans made up the workingman’s uniform. 

Nowadays, there’s no reason for your crew to suffer through the day with clothes that get heavier with sweat and offer little to no protection from the sun. Moisture-wicking performance apparel is lighter and feels cooler than a drenched cotton shirt ever will.

That doesn’t mean you have to forego branding on your hottest days, either. We can put your company’s logo on just about anything, including moisture-wicking materials. 

And don’t forget about hats. They’re the ideal thing to give to your crew to help keep the sun out of their eyes and faces. Sunglasses can break, and sunscreen can be left at home (or never applied, or applied only once) but a hat is as easy to use as it is effective. 

Use it as another branding opportunity for your company, too. Make the logo look sharp on the hat, and your team will actually want to wear it– a nice way to advertise!

With these guidelines, you and your employees can stay safe and  (relatively) cool during those scorching summer months!

About the Author

Kyle Greco Kyle Greco is the resident writer at RushOrderTees, where he blends word nerdery with his love for T-shirts. A graduate of The College of New Jersey, he is interested in exploring the intersection of clothing and culture. In his spare time, he makes music, builds guitars, and cooks with his wife. He enjoys hot dogs, sports, and collecting too many hats.