Workplace Safety and Public Safety and Workplace Issues

Can't stand the heat? Get off the job site

July 11, 2011

The combination of rising temperatures and humid air have prompted the National Weather Service to issue a heat advisory for central Indiana through 8 p.m., but some area workers can’t stay out of the elements.

For companies with employees working outside—such as contractors, roofers, landscapers and road crews—that means taking a few extra precautions.

“We take a common-sense approach,” said Bill Hiday, owner of Hiday Custom Builders in Fortville. “You take a couple of extra breaks, get plenty of extra water. When you’re as busy as we are, you can’t take a day off. There are some days when it gets hotter than this that we’ll call off at about 2 or 3 in the afternoon. You just start earlier.”

Heat advisories are issued when the heat index—the combination of air temperature and humidity—is expected to top 105 degrees. Forecasts call for highs Monday in the lower to middle 90s, with moist air making it feel more like 105 to 110.

At 110 degrees, an advisory is upgraded to an excessive heat warning, which is posted for six counties in southwestern Indiana near Evansville. The rest of the southern two-thirds of the state is under a heat advisory.

“Drink plenty of fluids and try to stay out of the sun as much as possible,” said John Hendrickson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis.

Hiday and his crew of seven were repairing a damaged roof Monday morning, but he said knowledge gleaned from his days playing football in high school and college can come in handy in excessive heat.

“There’s a lot of physical exertion in what we do,” Hiday said. “I know the signs. You’ve got to keep an eye on them. We’ve got to take advantage of the dry days we get, but there’s not a job worth heat stroke. My guys—and a lot of guys—really don’t know quit. You just have to use common sense.”

Noblesville landscaping firm Aspen Outdoor Designs provides a cooler with ice and water for its crew.

“All of our guys are provided with a cooler, and most of them wear long-sleeved shirts—which seems different in the heat, but it is to prevent the sun from hitting them directly,” Aspen office assistant Concetta Mazzocchi said.

Firefighters are used to handling high-heat situations, but Indianapolis Fire Department Capt. Rita Burris said the department still takes precautions. One is to provide crews more time to recover from an incident; another is to keep on-task times as short as possible.

“The human body is only equipped to do so much,” Burris said. “Your work time is the same, but the rehabilitation time to recover is longer. We try to make sure they have the appropriate time to cool the body down and get back to work.”

The Indiana Department of Transportation, which has road crews on construction projects throughout the state, uses an safety program called "Water. Rest. Shade." to educate workers. It also has begun using clothes with mesh and wicking fabrics, and adding electrolyte powder to the water in coolers at job sites.

And the state agency has switched much of their fleet to propane-powered vehicles, which spokesperson Will Wingfield said allows workers to get inside a cab and have access to air conditioning without worrying about adding to pollution levels.

“Heat is one of many occupational hazards for us,” Wingfield said. “We have to be more proactive with that, as well as insects and poison ivy in our projects.”

High temperatures are expected during the summer, but NWS’ Hendrickson said his agency usually issues one or two heat advisories each year. He said Indianapolis temperatures are running about 3.5 degrees above normal so far in July.

Hendrickson said the current heat wave comes from the confluence of a “strong” high-pressure system over the central United States that is producing warm temperatures. That combines with high humidity from an abundant amount of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.

He said Tuesday should be “a few degrees cooler,” but the NWS expects a break from the heat by midweek before temperatures warm up again for the weekend.  

 

ADVERTISEMENT

Recent Articles by Andrew Smith

Comments powered by Disqus