Summer can be brutal on some professions; especially those who are spending a lot of time outdoors in the grueling heat and dry air. As temperatures continue to climb each year, it’s more important than ever to know the dangers of working in these extreme conditions, and how to prepare your team to work safely in environments that can be very dangerous.
Eric Reuscher, CSP, Safety Products and Service Manager at Global Industrial, has decades of knowledge in this arena, and knows all too well the dangers of working in high temperatures. “Dehydration starts the process, and eventually that will lead to heat stress, and if you keep on pushing it, heatstroke and then death,” said Reuscher.
50% to 70% of these outdoor fatalities occur within just the first few days of working in these extreme temperatures , mainly because it takes the body time to build a tolerance to the heat. This lack of acclimatization, coupled with poor preparation and safety standards, means that far too many avoidable crises happen each year.
Which Professions Are Most at Risk?
As you can imagine, the high heat takes its toll on some particular professions. Reuscher says that “construction, Department of Transportation, and any specific outdoor job that is going to put you directly out in the sun” are most at risk.
OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) also lists agriculture, landscaping, oil, and gas well operations, and mail and package delivery as some of the other professions that are at an increased risk of working in high temperatures outdoors.
When you add hard physical labor, time, and suffocating protective clothing into the equation, the dangers multiply exponentially. In fact, the EPA states that over 1,300 deaths per year happen in the United States due to extreme heat. 
However, these dangerous outcomes are avoidable, IF you follow some basic safety principles, take proper precautions, and have a heat illness prevention plan in place.
How To Best Prepare for Working In Extreme Heat
Planning really is everything here. OSHA has some helpful guidelines for ensuring a safe working environment in high heat, and strongly suggests that employers create a written plan that should be shared with all employees.  This includes providing oversight on a daily basis, helping workers develop a tolerance, measuring and managing heat stress, and ensuring first-aid resources are always available, ideally with a trained medical professional to administer them.
By far the simplest and most important resource to have on site is water, and lots of it. Hydration is vital when working in the heat, and sadly most employers vastly underestimate how much water their team will be drinking. “You have to realize that each individual is probably drinking two to three times more water than they normally do,” said Reuscher. That kind of calculation is easy enough to do, too. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is:
- About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men
- About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women
Multiply those numbers by three and you’re looking at roughly 11 liters of water for men, and 8 liters of water for women. With a typical bottle of water containing 20 FL OZ, that equates to 18-19 bottles of water for each man working on site, and 13-14 bottles for every woman. In short, 2-3 bottles each just isn’t going to cut it.
It’s also important to give your team adequate breaks to cool down in an air-conditioned environment so that they can bring their temperature down. This means removing any protective clothing, too. Roughly 15 minutes every hour can make all the difference between life and death.
Knowing the warning signs of heat stress is also crucial in avoiding heat-related illnesses. “When you’re out in the heat and you stop sweating, that’s a sign of heatstroke,” said Reuscher. “When something like that happens, you need to immediately go and find shade, sit down, stop working, and get a cold compress on you. And start getting first aid administered to you.”
What Products Can Help Your Team Beat the Heat?
Aside from an adequate supply of drinking water, you should invest in a number of products that can mitigate the heat.
Cooling vests are one of the most basic, and affordable, ways to help keep your employees safe as they work in grueling heat and humidity. Coupled with cooling towels, cooling hats, and cooling face bands, you’re giving your team some much-needed protection from the sun.
If bottled water alone isn’t enough, especially if it’s going to be difficult for your team to leave their role to grab a drink, then consider hydration packs. These can be filled with up to 3 liters of water (that’s roughly 5 bottles of water) and are worn like a backpack. And of course, having plenty of heat stress kits available is crucial in treating the ill effects of working in the heat.
Cooling equipment is also vital and often overlooked, mainly because it’s considered an indoor tool. But your team will need to be coming inside regularly to avoid heatstroke and will need that environment to be cool. Air conditioners, chillers, fans, blowers, and evaporative coolers are all highly effective in creating that cool resting place the team will need.
What Else Can You Do to Keep Everyone Safe?
It’s important that your team is working as a team, and that includes looking out for each other when they’re out in high heat. “You need to keep your head on a swivel and know your surroundings,” said Reuscher. “If everybody actually has a safety mind, and there’s a good safety culture, everybody’s looking out for everybody else.”
This is not only good for the team, but it makes good sense for each individual, too. Sometimes the team will be operating some heavy and dangerous equipment, and if someone operating it passes out from the heat, that could cause some serious accidents.
All in all, the biggest takeaway here is that prevention is way better than treating heat stress. Look after your team, invest in heat safety equipment, overestimate how much water you’ll need, and have a heat illness prevention plan in place. Do that and you should have a safe and productive summer.
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