Preparing Outside Workers for the Summer Heat

Construction worker in bright yellow HVSA drinking from a water bottle to combat the summer heat.

As the temperature rises in late spring/early summer, personnel who operate outside will have to continue the same operations that they have been conducting throughout the more-temperate seasons. Working in the summer heat presents new challenges for these workers, but it should not encourage them to remove safety garments and other precautionary guards to better cope with the heat.

Depending on their line of work, outdoor personnel are equipped with many kinds of protective garments or equipment; goggles, fire-retardant or other resistant clothing, gloves, and steel-toes boots are designed to ensure their safety. Wearing these in the heat can cause discomfort, which might persuade the workers to remove or tamper with them to become more comfortable as they work. However, this should be avoided whenever possible, since it exposes them to unnecessary hazards.

However, this does not mean that all personnel should carry out business as usual. The heat and intense rays of the Sun pose hazards to outside workers that need to be addressed. While workers should remain covered, to protect from the dangers specifically related to their job and the ultraviolet (UV) rays that can threaten the health of their skin, they should wear breathable garments that absorb little heat.

Managers also advise wearing two layers of clothing: the first is to absorb the moisture coming off the workers’ bodies, which can actually cool them in the smoldering heat. Ultimately, the workers should try to find a balance between safety and comfort, while being especially careful not to limit safety where it is most important for them.

Regardless of their clothing and protective garments, outside personnel need to be cautious of heat stroke and related damages brought onto their bodies from the high temperature, such as dizziness or fatigue. According to OSHA, there have been many worker fatalities from heat stroke throughout the United States since 2008. In addition, from 1992-2006, 423 crop workers were reported to have died from the heat. Managers should keep an eye on their workers for any symptoms of heat-related illness, even relieving them of their duties for a brief time if necessary. Workers should also continuously hydrate and choose water over other beverages.

Being in the heat can also indirectly cause hazards. Sweaty palms, fogged glasses, and dizziness resulting from heat exposure can compromise a worker’s performance in a detrimental way.

In addition, depending on their location, workers can be exposed to a variety of biological hazards, such as poisonous plants (poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac), venomous animals (snakes, spider, scorpions), and vector-borne diseases (from mosquitoes and ticks). Appropriate covering can reduce exposure to these threats.

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