The Dog Days of Summer: Heat Stress Safety

You hear the reference “the dog days of summer” largely through the month of August because it’s often extremely hot. Working outdoors in these hot temps can be, not only exhausting, but dangerous if you aren’t taking appropriate measures to stay cool. What should you know about heat stress and keeping yourself and your team well during the hottest time of the year? Let’s dig in!

If your job is working on or operating heavy equipment, odds are that you are outdoors in the heat or in a garage with limited cooling resources. Thankfully, most closed cab machines today have the comfort of climate control or can be ordered to include it, but what can you do if your equipment doesn’t have this feature, or you work in an open cab? You can be aware of the risks and be ready to combat them.


The human body is ill equipped to handle internal temperatures above 99.7 degrees Fahrenheit and if it reaches 104 degrees, severe damage can be the result in as short as 30 minutes. Being aware of your work environment and also your personal characteristics are imperative in a hot work environment.


Some factors to consider in the work area:

  • Temperature

  • Humidity

  • Radiant Heat

  • Air Velocity


Some factors to consider personally:

  • Age

  • Weight

  • Fitness Level

  • Medical Conditions

  • Acclimatization to Heat

When your body cannot cool itself sufficiently you may begin to experience various effects of heat stress. It’s important to be aware and able to recognize these effects which can include dehydration, heat rash, cramps, and burns. While these effects are more obvious, there are others that may not be.


Heat exhaustion can be the result of the body working too hard to stay cool. One may experience a combination of other heat related effects like dehydration, sweating, weakness, headaches or dizziness, cramps, nausea, and heightened body temperature. If not recognized early symptoms may worsen. A person may stop sweating, become pale and clammy, become disoriented, clumsy, have shortness of breath, and refuse to drink among other severe symptoms. An ambulance should be called for anyone experiencing heat exhaustion and appropriate measures to cool the worker should be taken.


Heat stroke is the result of the body no longer being able to cool itself. If you suspect heat stroke in a worker an ambulance should be called immediately as this can be fatal. A person experiencing possible heat stroke may have warm, dry, pink skin or cool, blue skin and a temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit. This person may experience cramps, racing pulse, headache or dizziness, slow reaction times, disorientation, confusion, and even seizures or cardiac arrest.


Additional effects of heat stress to be on the lookout for things like an increased risk of slips due to dampness from sweat while using tools and possible side effects of medications one might be taking when heat changes the body’s ability to absorb the chemicals. Reduced concentration due to the effects of overheating can be cause for more mistakes on the job which may result in injury. (A study done by NASA determined that working for an extended period of time in temps of 95 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to up to 60 mistakes per hour without a worker even realizing it.)


Here are some tips to help avoid heat stress on the job:

  • Drink plenty of cool water. (every 15 minutes is suggested)

  • Wear loose, breathable clothing.

  • Take breaks. (Preferably away from heat sources and out of the sun.)

  • Avoid eating large meals before working in heat.

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol consumption as these cause the body to lose water.

  • Use cooling vests.

  • Use sunscreen.

  • Reduce pace or work load.

By being aware of the risks and preventions for heat stress related illnesses and keeping your team informed, you can stay safe AND productive.


FUN FACT:

Did you know that the reference “Dog Days of Summer” isn’t actually derived for the idea that dogs lay around in the heat panting? The phrase actually came about through ancient Greeks and Romans referring to the astronomical dog, Sirius, or the “Dog Star”. During a certain period of time in the summer from July through August Sirius is at its highest and brightest and in certain parts of the world it rises and sets with the sun at that time. Ancient Romans believed that this contributed to the sun’s heat and then began referring to it as the “dog days”.


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