The challenge with heat is twofold. First, the human body only has two ways of handling heat. And second, we are individually affected by heat in different ways. To win the battle with heat, we need to understand how heat affects us physically and mentally, the specific conditions of the jobsite and create a plan to effectively demonstrate our high degree of concern for everyone on the jobsite.

Your Health and Your Body’s Physical Response to Heat

The human body has limitations when dealing with extreme temperatures. It can only get rid of heat by radiating it to the environment and through the evaporation of sweat. The first is compromised once air temperature approaches body temperature. The second becomes ineffective once ambient air is too wet to absorb sweat.

Anything that affects a person’s physical health also impacts the person’s ability to respond to heat. This includes factors beyond physical fitness such as medication, caffeine, alcohol, nutrition, hydration, sleep and other personal factors. On the jobsite, we don’t always know the medical conditions of our co-workers or other factors that might impact their ability to handle the heat.

The Effects of Heat on the Brain

Physical safety and health are not the only concerns. The first natural response to heat is blood flowing closer to the skin (to radiate inner heat to the environment), and less blood flows to the working muscles and the brain. That’s why fatigue and mental exhaustion is an early symptom of heat stress. This also explains why another early symptom is diminished cognitive ability. This looks like uncharacteristic indecisiveness, being more forgetful, reduced focus on the task at hand and heightened irritability. For these reasons, it’s vital to create a culture of care that includes more check-ins, such as using a buddy system, in addition to increased water intake and frequent rest breaks in the shade to combat the effects of the combination of high heat, high humidity, radiant heat sources, low airflow and high metabolic activity.

Tips To Work Safely in the Heat

Self-care is vital to preparing ourselves for high-heat conditions. Sometimes we arrive to work already dehydrated, skip meals in the summer or get less sleep due to activities in the home or community. To work in the heat, we need to prepare ourselves by getting quality sleep, minimizing substance use (including caffeine), eating healthy meals and arriving at work with the mindset of showing greater grace and empathy to our co-workers.

The key point to remember is that we are all affected by heat differently. Just because you are OK does not mean that everyone is OK. If you are feeling symptomatic, speak up for yourself and others who might also be impacted but not realize it or lack the courage to speak up. Together, we can prevent heat injury and illness.

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For more information or assistance, please reach out to Joe Xavier or Aaron Braun.