When you think about the dangers of working on air conditioning equipment, you probably think about working with electricity, refrigerant, and torches. We often overlook a more obvious danger: the weather. The reason we have a job is because it is either hot or cold. A recent tragedy in Lubbock Texas highlights the dangers of working in attics in the summer. An HVAC worker was found unconscious in an attic and subsequently died. Here is a link to the local area news about the incident. Lubbock Tragedy
It is very important to be aware of the danger that hot and cold extremes can pose to workers. One of the most important aspects of safety when working in the heat is to keep hydrated – drink lots of water – and drink often. Evaporation of sweat is your body’s last available cooling mechanism. It is very effective provided that you keep the flow of water into your body.
Air movement helps by accelerating the evaporation of the sweat. If possible, set up some type of fan to help move air in the attic space. I have known mechanics to disconnect a few duct runs and run the air conditioner to keep the attic cool. Of course this only works if the unit is working.
Another way to avoid life threatening consequences of working in hot attics in the summer is to work early – preferably before noon. If someone really wants their AC working, they won’t mind letting you start work at 7:00 AM.
You must monitor your body’s reaction to the heat. If it is hot and you are NOT sweating, you should get out of the attic and hydrate. When you are hot, sweating is good. If you are experiencing a rapid pulse and muscle cramps and feel dizzy, you most likely are experiencing heat exhaustion. You should get out of the hot area, cool off and hydrate. If you have these symptoms and then develop a headache and have stopped sweating, you may be the victim of heat stroke – which is life threatening. You should get out of the heat, hydrate, and call 911.
The key is not to get to that point. When you work in the heat you must take breaks to hydrate and cool off. I recall a changeout where we worked all day – a lot of the day in the attic. We were swapping both the blower coil and condensing unit and repairing some ducts in the attic. It was 95 degrees outside and the house had a black roof with no shade. By the end of the day we were only working in 30 minute shifts and resting and drinking for 30 minutes. We would drink at least a quart of water every time we came out of the attic. Our clothes were as wet as if we had jumped in a pool. Honestly, I don’t think I could do that today. Don’t ignore what your body is telling you. If you start feeling bad while working in the heat – get to a cool place and hydrate.