Saturday, May 14, 2011

Keeping Cool While Working in the Heat

When my students come in complaining about the weather I sometimes respond, yes, isn’t the weather nice today! After all, if the temperature was always pleasant we would have far less to do. Some students are surprised that they will be working in hot conditions. Even if you are working inside an air conditioned building, if you are there to fix the air conditioner, it probably is hot. Seriously, it is a fact that the temperatures we work in are often very hot. In the southeast, the high humidity adds to the temperature perceived by the body. This is because the evaporation of sweat is your body’s only effective cooling mechanism in high temperatures. These can be dangerous conditions to work in if you don’t take reasonable precautions. First, you need to keep yourself hydrated. Drink a lot. Many technicians keep a large igloo cooler of water or gatoraide on their truck so they will always have a ready supply. In general, you should avoid alcoholic beverages, they actually tend to dehydrate you. Of course, there is an obvious safety issue of working with power tools while consuming alcohol – not usually a good idea. Caffeinated drinks are also not recommended because caffeine is a diuretic. Kind of like taking three steps forward and two back. You have to consume more because your system keeps getting flushed out. Although you cannot avoid working in the heat, you can avoid prolonged work in excessively hot areas such as attics. If at all possible, plan attic work early in the morning or late in the evening. This not only protects the workers, it improves productivity. You just cannot get as much done in the extreme heat. I recall doing a change out in an attic on a 95°F, 80% rel humidity day. The roof had black shingles and there was no shade. It did not take long before we had consumed all the beverages the family had to offer, other than tap water. However, the water was really what we needed. We worked all day, if you counted our rest breaks. Towards the end of the day we were resting for longer periods of time than we were working. Our clothes were literally dripping wet. I have no doubt that we could have done the work in half the time in cooler temperatures. My partner and I were both young and in good physical condition (a long time ago for me). I think I would literally die if I tried to do the same thing today. There are two forms of illness associated with your body overheating: heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion can be treated by resting, cooling off, and rehydrating. If heat exhaustion is not treated, it will lead to heat stroke. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that can be fatal. It has symptoms similar to a heat attack. Be careful in the heat. While working in the heat, if you feel faint or dizzy, nausea, rapid weak heartbeat, cramps, or headache, move to a cool place and drink some water to rehydrate.  

2 comments:

  1. my husband is working in the heat just started this job last week after barely two days he came home hurting and cramping his chest was aching like a stroke all i could do was call the ems and they took him and said he didn't have a heat stroke thank god but he was close his body overheated i don't want him working there but can't make him quit what can i do for him to keep cool

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    1. Check out http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/

      Luz, make sure he has plenty of water to drink. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heat cramps are caused by extreme sweating causing loss of both water and salts. He may want to carry some type of sprts drink - they replace salts. Stay away from caffeinated drinks - like Coke or other sodas. Also, loose fitting, light colored clothes help. If he is out in the sun a lot, have him wear a wide brimmed hat for shade.Also, if the job will permit, he should take breaks. Especially if the job is hotter or harder than work that he normally does, his body will have to build up to handle the conditions.

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