Outdoor work is often physically challenging, and even the fittest worker will feel the impact of extreme heat. Don’t simply shrug it off as part of the job. Yes, there is work to be done no matter what, but you want to complete it without jeopardizing your health and well-being.
The good news is that there are measures you can take to make it through those long, hot days. Some are time-tested, common sense solutions, and others incorporate new technology and fresh thinking on the subject.
When the mercury rises and a heat wave hits, the news fills with ideas to help people stay cool. But most of it involves staying out of the heat and finding cool spots like malls and movie theaters where air conditioning keeps things icy.
That’s sound advice for most people, but what about the hardworking men and women who must get outside and work in all kinds of conditions, including the stifling heat? If you work outdoors, you know the challenges, and taking a few hours to cool off in an air-conditioned room isn’t usually an option when there’s a job to get done.
Getting through a hot day takes planning and preparation. Of course, that is something that’s expected in any job. You wouldn’t show up at a worksite without the right tools, and you shouldn’t arrive unprepared for the heat.
There are lots of tools and tricks, including some as simple as making sure you always have water. You can use these tips to keep your body temperature from rising during an extreme heat wave, and you should take advantage of as many of them as you possibly can.
Finding what works for you is also personal. Not only do our bodies respond differently, but not every job that requires working outdoors is the same. Using what is best for your body and your work situation will make all the difference.
So, when the heat is on, what are the best ways to cope?
Tip 1: Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more
When it’s hot, thirst is not always the best indicator of your body’s hydration needs. In fact, if you wait until you’re thirsty before you drink water, you may be well beyond the time when you need to replenish fluids. Make sure you drink something — water is your best bet — every 15 to 20 minutes.
What’s more, you should start drinking even before your day gets underway to make sure you begin the job fully hydrated. The best way to make sure you’re never short of fluids, especially water, is to bring a water bottle with you to the job and refill it throughout the day. f you’re a manager concerned about performance, getting custom water bottles for your team will help boost morale and encourage them to stay hydrated.
Tip 2: Go easy on the caffeine
Many of us love the morning boost that a good cup of coffee provides. But when a heat wave is on, don’t overdo it on the caffeine, as that in excess can prompt dehydration. Don’t forget that energy drinks usually have a healthy dose of it as well, so even if you think you need a lift from one to get through a tough afternoon, try to avoid it when you’re trying to beat the heat.
Tip 3: Dress for success
When the sun is especially punishing, it’s critical to keep yourself protected from its rays. That means wear cool, loose-fitting clothing in light-colored fabrics that breathe and help your body maintain a healthy temperature. If you can wear a hat on the job, do it.
While it’s tempting to strip off clothing when the heat is soaring, leaving skin exposed to the sun won’t help keep you cool. It could even lead to severe sunburns or heat stroke, conditions that are not only dangerous and unhealthy but could also keep you off the job.
Tip 4: Layer on sunscreen
You want to make sure you protect your skin from the sun. Even if you’re properly dressed for the conditions, it’s impossible not to have some skin exposed. Make sure you apply a sunscreen that has an SPF rating of at least 30 and plan to keep layering it on throughout the day.
Pay careful attention to the most burn-prone areas, which are your nose, your ears and the back of your neck. Since you’re not just chilling out at the beach but working hard in that hot sun, you need to be especially diligent. Sweat can wash away sunscreen or at least reduce the amount of protection it provides, so keep re-applying.
Tip 5: Take cover
Even if you’re properly dressed for the conditions, and you’ve covered your body in sunscreen, it’s a good idea to look for any opportunity to get out of the sun during your workday. Take breaks in the shade and, if possible, move some tasks to covered areas. If there are projects you can rotate among the crew, make sure you do so in a way that gives everyone a break from the sun.
Tip 6: Let your body acclimate
If you live in an area with changing seasons, accept that your body won’t snap into high heat mode right away. The truth is, your body needs some time to adapt. When temperatures rise, try to moderate your activity at first, allowing your body to get used to the conditions.
The human body is an incredible machine, but sometimes we treat our cars better than we do ourselves! During the first few days of a heat wave, don’t take on activities at a pace that might be too physically taxing.
Sure, there’s a job to be done, and you’re someone who puts in an honest day’s work, but be careful you don’t overdo it while your body is adjusting to new conditions. Doctors say it can take as long as seven to 14 days to get used to a change in temperature.
Tip 7: Eat right
If you’re working in the heat, avoid a heavy lunch, especially protein-rich meats. You’re better off with smaller snacks and light meals throughout the day, as your body creates more metabolic heat if it’s breaking down heavy foods.
Try to ensure your hot weather diet includes plenty of leafy green vegetables or fresh fruit and nuts to help replenish your electrolytes. And while it may seem counter-intuitive, spicy food can cool you down, as they stimulate heat receptors in your mouth, enhance circulation and cause you to sweat, which is your body’s natural way of cooling.
Tip 8: Speaking of sweating
Sweating is a sign that your body is functioning like it should as it tries to reduce its temperature through evaporation. In fact, if you’re battling heat and you suddenly stop sweating, it’s a warning sign for heatstroke. So, don’t be concerned about sweating on hot days on the job, but do take measures if you notice that it stops.
Tip 9: Spritzing isn't just for supermodels
Whether it’s a misting from a garden hose or water from your bottle dribbled over the back of your neck, a cooling bit of water can make you feel a lot better. Take a few moments throughout your day to get some cold water onto yourself.
Think about getting some cold water or ice on the wrists just below your palm, too. According to some holistic health practitioners, this part of your body is critical to clearing heat out of your system. Hey, it’s worth trying.
Tip 10: Put a damp towel in the freezer the night before
Wrap the towel around your neck as your work day gets underway. Not only will it protect your neck from the harmful effects of the sun but it will keep cooling you as it melts.
You can also benefit just by rubbing ice wrapped in a cloth on various parts of your body. It sounds a bit gross, but those armpits are a great place to start. Put a cold block of ice under your pits, and you’ll feel cooler in a hurry.
Tip 11: Adjust your schedule
If you can start your day a bit earlier, it’s worth it. And if you can get the most physically demanding parts of the job out of the way before the midday sun ramps up the temperature, you’ll be much happier in the late afternoon.
Do you have any flexibility in your schedule? An earlier start means you’ll have to endure less heat, but you can also consider a schedule that puts part of your day into the cooler part of the evening.
Tip 12: Wear a cooling vest
While it’s an investment, if you know you’ll be working outside in hot weather extensively, you’ll probably never regret buying a cooling vest. Chemical cold packs rest in pockets throughout these vests, so it’s like you’re wearing a whole bunch of ice blocks all over your upper body.
The cold packs, of course, don’t stay frozen forever, but they will be a welcome relief while you’re wearing the vest. If you have access to a freezer, you can always drop it back in to get its chill back.
Tip 13: Fire up a fan
Do you work in a location where a fan can be used? If you do, an industrial-grade work fan can make you feel cooler, because the sensation of sweat evaporating from your skin happens more quickly than it does in still air.
Of course, you could always fan yourself, but that requires physical effort, and when it’s hot, that’s something we want to minimize. You’re already working hard enough.
Tip 14: Get a haircut
Even if your long locks are your trademark, you may want to consider a cooler cut during the summer months. Excess hair traps the heat around your head.
Tip 15: Drink a lot of water
Yes, proper hydration was already mentioned. But if there’s one bit of advice here that bears repeating, it’s this one. It’s important to keep a water bottle — a custom stainless-steel water bottle will stand up to the demands of the job — with you all the time.
Consuming fluids at regular intervals throughout the day will help you maintain your energy and keep you healthy. Don’t skimp on it.
If the heat has you beat, consider a drink that will replenish lost electrolytes. Just be careful you don’t choose one that’s loaded with sugar or empty carbohydrates.
Tip 16: Cut back at happy hour
There’s nothing wrong with unwinding after a long, hot day on the job with an adult beverage. It’s a great and time-honored way to bond with your co-workers.
But you don’t want to overdo it during a heat wave because you will feel alcohol’s dehydrating effects the next day. Go easy when you’re at the pub after a hot day on the job, so your body is up to the workload the next morning.
Tip 17: Keep a bucket of ice water nearby
If your work doesn’t require you to be constantly on the move to different locations, a simple icy bucket of water can be a real advantage on a hot day. Place it somewhere on your worksite that makes it convenient for people to get a quick, cold splash as they go by, or as a place for dunking towels to keep them damp and cooling on the skin. Just don’t use it to refill your custom sports water bottle — it’s not drinking water!
Tip 18: Don't ignore the warning signs
Sometimes, despite the best efforts of you and your crew, the heat can simply overwhelm a team member. Stay alert for the warning signs of heat exhaustion, which are heavy sweating, rapid pulse, dizziness, goose bumps on the skin, muscle cramps and headache. Heat exhaustion is a precursor to the more serious heat stroke , which can typically be identified by a lack of sweating, nausea and vomiting, mental confusion, flushed skin, rapid breathing and a racing pulse.
If you sense that you or someone else is suffering from heat exhaustion, get them out of the sun and into a cooler setting. If you believe it has moved on to the more serious heat stroke, seek medical attention immediately. Remember to always err on the side of caution when working outside in the heat; your health is too important to do anything else.
There are all kinds of ways to stay cooler during extreme heat. When the temperatures rise, but the job needs to get done, make sure you arrive at the worksite with a plan for staying healthy. Use as many of these tips as you possibly can, and don’t underestimate the seriousness of high temperatures on the body.
Preserving your body is not only good for your health but it's also important for your long-term earnings as well. Stay cool and work smart.