This isn’t an office job. When it’s hot outside, it’s go time — and you can’t always escape the heat. If you’re lucky, you get to climb into your favorite piece of construction equipment and work in the air-conditioned cab. But if you’re out in the elements, you’d be wise to know how to stay safe when extreme heat strikes to avoid heat-related illnesses. So test your hot weather know-how. Do you know what’s fact and what’s fiction about working when it’s hot?
Fact or fiction? Heat index is just a term made up by TV weather people.
Weather folks do love to go on and on about the heat index. But in your line of work, heat index is a better measurement than air temperature alone for estimating the risk to workers from environmental heat sources. This single value takes temperature, humidity, wind speed and sun intensity into account. The higher the index, the hotter the weather will feel — and the greater the risk that outdoor workers will experience heat-related illness. As the heat index rises, take more precautions for you and your crew.
Fact or Fiction? Anything I drink will help hydrate me.
Not all liquids are created equal. Caffeinated and overly sugary drinks won’t hydrate you as well as water and can actually cause dehydration. And sure, sports drinks might sound like your best bet, but they’ll never quench your thirst like water because they often contain sugar and salts. That said, electrolyte beverages will replenish lost electrolytes quickly when needed.
Fact or Fiction? New guys can’t keep up in the heat because they’re not as tough.
Sorry newbies, this is somewhat of a fact. But we’ll cut you some slack, because it’s based on science — not on any personal failings on your part. The truth is, workers new to outdoor jobs are generally most at risk for heat-related illnesses. In a 2005 study by Cal/OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), nearly half the cases of heat-related illness involved workers on their first day of work. And in 80 percent of the cases, the worker involved had only been on the job for four or fewer days.
The good news is that humans are capable of adjusting to the heat. So it’s important to gradually increase the workload or allow more frequent breaks to help new workers build up a tolerance for hot conditions. Much of this adjustment to heat under normal conditions takes about five to seven days, according to OSHA, as the body will makes continued exposure to heat more endurable. It may take up to several weeks for the body to fully adapt to the warmer temperatures.
Fact or Fiction? Cotton is your best bet for clothing on a hot day.
There is some debate on this topic. Some folks swear by breathable cotton. It absorbs liquid (read: sweat) quickly, but it also takes a long time to dry and retains heat. Other folks opt for lightweight, polyester sports fabrics that wick moisture away from the body. The correct answer? Let’s chalk this one up to personal preference.
For a full breakdown of the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and treatment recommendations, refer to OSHA’s guidelines here.
And for more information about how to use the heat index to plan for outdoor work, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s guide.
Sources: Department of Homeland Security (https://www.ready.gov/heat) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration