We're right in the midst of summer, and it's been a hot one. Heat can really drain you if part of your job is working outside doing landscaping, roofing, construction, or anything else outdoors. It can be doubly worse if you're working inside attics where the heat of a roof and poor ventilation can make temperatures soar. Summer heat is dangerous and potentially fatal, so it shouldn't be taken lightly. There are, however, a few things you can do to stay cool when working outside in the heat. We've gathered a handful of handy tips to help you stay cool, comfortable, and beat the summer heat.
Avoid it if you can
The best defense is a good offense and for that reason, the best way to deal with heat is to simply avoid it. That might seem like an impossible task, but if you can schedule your jobs during the summer months earlier than you typical do them, you'll be better off. Summer means more daylight hours, so use that to your advantage!
Most customers will understand if you explain the issues involved with working in the mid-day heat, and you just need to mention it to them. Start your jobs early, stop mid-day before you're wiped out, and if you've got more energy, spend it on taking care of other business things inside with the AC. You can catch up on invoices, call customers back to get feedback on past jobs, check your numbers and see how the business is doing, but don't feel obligated to be out in the heat if you can get the work done in the morning.
Take breaks and stay hydrated
We can't say this enough: you've got to take breaks! The heat will beat you down in ways that you didn't think were possible—it's dangerous. Work a little and then find some shade to rest under, drink some water or a sports drink, and cool down before you head back out.
When you hydrate, try to drink a little every 15 to 20 minutes and avoid caffeine, as it can dehydrate you and work against your efforts to stay hydrated.
Wear the appropriate clothing
There are mixed opinions on what the best clothing for the heat is, but ultimately it depends on the type of work you're doing. Usually, the debate comes down to cotton vs. polyester. Cotton tends to breathe better, but polyester will wick away moisture and sweat. A blend of the two is a pretty good balance that gives you the best of both worlds, but it will come down to personal preference. Loose fitting clothing tends to feel better in the heat and can breathe better as well.
Regardless of the material, when it comes to shirts, something with long sleeves is going to be your best bet for heat. It doesn't always seem cooler, but the reason why it works is that the sun can evaporate your sweat before it's had time to cool you properly, and long sleeves protect against that. You're also exposing yourself to sunburn and beating your skin up unnecessarily if you're working outside often with exposed skin.
Obviously, shorts can keep help keep you cool, but aren't always appropriate for the job. Some work-wear companies make vented pants, these are actually really good at reducing heat and keeping you cool.
Hats are a great option for keeping the sun directly off your head and out of your eyes. Depending on the hat, it can also keep the sun off your neck and shoulders. You'll most likely want something that's vented to let the heat generated from your head escape from the hat. Long hair can also trap heat, so you might consider a tighter look for summer.
And finally, footwear should be considered as well. If you're required to wear steel toes, you can find steel toe shoes that are vented and let your feet breathe. Vented and breathable socks are a good idea and do help, but if you're on a job, flip-flops or sandals are probably a bad idea. They may be super comfortable and breezy during the summer, but they're a general safety concern that can lead to some pretty nasty injuries.
Consider a cooling vest
One tip we've gotten from a user is that he uses a cooling vest. There are a lot of folks working through the summer months that can't find an escape from the heat, and they rely on a cooling vest. There are a number of vests on the market—some you soak with cold water, some you fill with cold water, others you freeze or use cold packs inside of. You'll want to consider them all and choose what's right for the job you're doing and the industry you're in.
Once you're too hot or ready for a break, there are a few things you can do to maximize your cooling. Cool water on your face, the back of your neck, etc. can help cool you off and give you instant relief from the heat. An ice pack or wet towel kept in a cooler is an easy and great way to cool off on your break. You can even throw that cold towel around your neck as you work to keep you cooler as you work.
Another great way to cool off when you're hot is to use a fan. Milwaukee and a number of other tool manufacturers offer battery-powered job fans. These are great for cooling off anywhere, as they're small, light, and don't require an extension cord to power. A box fan is an excellent, cheap fan option, but it's not always a practical solution for every job, so you may need to find what works best for the work you're doing.
One day at a time
Your body can become used to the heat and deal with it better as summer goes on and you're exposed to it, but too much too soon is a recipe for trouble. As the weather starts heating up, try to expose yourself to the heat a little at a time. You're likely to be able to go longer on day seven than you did on the first, so just work your way up.
OSHA has guidelines on to acclimate yourself to the heat, so check out their guide of best practices for getting used to working in hot weather.
Heatstroke is a killer, know what to look for
You can do a lot to fight the heat, but the fact is, you can't fight it forever. Knowing when you've lost the fight and you need to call it quits is an important thing to know, because heat stroke can actually kill you or cause brain damage as well as other organ damage. It's bad stuff, and you don't want to mess around with it. Typically before heat stroke, you'll experience heat exhaustion, which has milder symptoms that you can look for:
Symptoms of heat exhaustion
- Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
- Muscle or abdominal cramps
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Pale skin
- Profuse sweating
- Rapid heartbeat
And if heat exhaustion is left untreated, it can progress to heat stroke:
Symptoms of heat stroke
- Throbbing headache
- Dizziness and light-headedness
- Lack of sweating despite the heat
- Red, hot, and dry skin
- Muscle weakness or cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering
As you can see, many of the symptoms are the same, so just don't chance it. If you have heat exhaustion symptoms, get out of the heat, stop work, cool down, and reconsider the job for the day. If you or anyone you work with have heat stroke symptoms, call 911 or take them to the hospital immediately.
Stay cool and stay safe
Hopefully, these tips help you stay cool and beat the summer heat. It's easy to underestimate the effect that hot weather has on you and your body when you're working in it every day, so it's important to take the steps necessary to protect yourself as well as any employees you may have. We've included a list below with some of the items we mentioned that help you stay cool and/or get cooled off if you've gotten too hot. If you have any tips or items that help you deal with the heat, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org