As nice as it would be to hibernate during the summer – or at least stay in the air conditioning – as contract cleaners that just is not possible.
However, heat is dangerous. In fact, it’s the number one weather-related killer in the United States according to the National Weather Service. More than 1,250 heat-related deaths occurred in the heat wave of 1980. A 2003 heat wave that swept across Europe claimed more than 50,000 lives!
So take it seriously and be smart.
Some suggestions are obvious (but not always practical): stay out of the sun, stay inside. But others are more realistic for contract cleaners. What follows are four ways you can work smart in the heat:
1. “Drink Water: Beat the Heat!”
That chant was beat into my husband’s brain 20+ years ago during boot camp at Ft. Benning, Georgia, in the middle of summer. He, and all fellow young recruits were required to down gallons and gallons of water between “smoke sessions” (i.e., “drop and give me 20!”)
Forcing soldiers to drink that much water was not just another way of mentally wearing them down. It’s the most important step toward preventing a heat-related illness or injury.
Water makes up 70 percent of our muscles, and 75 percent of our brain. Without enough water, we become dehydrated and our bodies cannot function correctly.
All this to say, drink plenty of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated liquids. If you know you’re going to be working in the heat, it’s smart to start drinking water at least an hour or two before heading out, then drinking an additional eight ounces of water every 15 minutes while in the heat. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty.
(Persons who have epilepsy or heart, kidney or liver disease, are on fluid restrictive diets or have a problem with fluid retention should consult a physician before increasing their consumption of fluids.)
2. Wear Sunscreen
Sunscreen should not be limited to kids at the swimming pool! And while it’s important for long-term care, such as preventing skin cancer, it’s important while working in the heat.
When you are sunburned, you have suffered ultraviolet radiations burns, which can significantly slow down your skin’s ability to get rid of excess heat, making you overheat faster.
3. Dress Appropriately
This is kind of a hard one at times because you need to dress safely. Sometimes that means wearing personal protective equipment, which, of course, is HOT. But depending on the type of job, it’s not always necessary.
Dress in light colors. Here’s a very important one: WEAR A HAT!
Well-known industry member, the late David Olsen of Tidy Power Wash Service, posted graphic photos on Pressure Washing Institute’s bulletin board a few years ago after he had to have his entire scalp removed due to overexposure from the sun! The doctors said the skin cancer was a result of not wearing a hat.
4. Eat Light
Save that steak for when you are finished for the day. Food that is hard to digest – like high-protein foods – increases water loss.
Heat Disorder Symptoms and First Aid Treatments
In addition to taking precautionary steps to prevent heat related illness, it’s also important to recognize signs of what these disorders look like and how to treat them.
This is the most well-known heat disorder, and can range from mild redness and pain to swelling and/or blisters on the skin, fever and headaches. Ointments can be applied in mild cases. Don’t pop the blisters intentionally, but if they do pop, apply dry, sterile dressings. In serious cases, see your doctor.
2. Heat Cramps:
These consist of heavy sweating accompanied by painful spasms – typically in the abdomen and leg muscles. Firmly pressing on or gently massaging the cramping muscles can relieve the spasms. Sip water unless nausea occurs.
3. Heat Exhaustion:
Typical symptoms may include heavy sweating; cold, pale and clammy skin; weakness; weak pulse; and fainting or vomiting. Get out of the sun, preferably indoors. Loosen clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths. Sip water, unless nasea occurs. If nausea continues, immediately seek medical attention.
4. Heat Stroke:
This is considered a medical emergency, and requires immediate medical attention! With heat stroke, the victim will have a high body temperature, hot dry skin (sweating has stopped), a rapid and strong pulse, and possible unconsciousness. While waiting for medical assistance, move the victim to a cooler environment, remove clothing, fan the victim, and try to reduce body temperature with a cold bath or sponging. DO NOT give fluids.
A Final Word
Hot weather is more than uncomfortable; it is dangerous. Make sure you – and your employees – implement smart practices in the heat. Work slower and take plenty of shaded breaks. You may not get as much work done in a day, but at least you’ll live to work another day.