Beating the Heat at Work

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For those who must work in hot conditions, either working outside or in a building without AC, summer can add an extra challenge to the work day. You’re not alone if you feel like the hot weather makes physical work in a factory or a warehouse just that much more demanding. Finding ways to beat the heat at work will help keep you cool on days when it’s hotter’n a blister bug in a pepper patch.

Working in the heat affects more than just comfort. Heat also poses issues for safety, so definitely pay attention to the signs of heat exhaustion. When your body temperature is elevated, you may feel sweaty and uncomfortable, especially when you are adapting to a new environment or when summer heat first sets in. The main concern is to make sure you don’t suffer from heat stroke or heat-related illness from working in hot temperatures.

Even celebrities aren’t immune to the summer heat. Carlos Santana was 20 minutes into his set at Pine Knob on July 5, 2022, when he suddenly collapsed from heat exhaustion, according to Rolling Stone. In this case, the temperature was 114 degrees Fahrenheit up on the stage. The heat, along with Santana’s state of dehydration, proved to be too much for the 74-year-old musician. Carlos Santana recovered from the incident, but it’s a good reminder to all of us that we need to take steps to protect our safety and health in any kind of hot weather.

How to Recognize If You’re Suffering from Heat-Related Illness

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are a number of ways to recognize when you are suffering from heat stress before it becomes a full-blown heat-related emergency. If you notice any of these concerning symptoms, it’s a sign that it’s time to take some steps to prevent heat stroke.

  • Weakness and Fatigue
  • Excessive Thirst
  • Pale and Clammy Skin
  • Headache
  • Nausea and Heat Cramps

All of these can be early warnings of heat stroke, so take them seriously.

worker suffering from heat stress

Safety Tips to Stay Cool Working in the Heat

What can you do to reduce heat stress? Try any of these safety tips to beat the heat and reduce the chance of heat-related illness.

  1. Drink water. Water is the most obvious way to stay hydrated and replace water lost through perspiration. As a bonus, water is usually free if you carry your own water bottle. Consider adding electrolytes (like Liquid IV) to stay hydrated while drinking less water (and taking fewer trips to the bathroom). Electrolytes also help reduce or eliminate heat cramps.
  2. Wear a damp towel around your neck. The evaporation helps lower your body temperature and prevent heat exhaustion. Although you might need to rinse the towel with cold water now and then, it will make you feel more comfortable.
  3. Bring along a portable fan. If you have an electric outlet nearby, fans a very inexpensive. If not, Ryobi makes portable fans with strong, rechargeable batteries that can clip onto a nearby object to help prevent heat stress.
  4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Believe it or not, the dehydrating effect of caffeine, or the alcohol you drank yesterday, reduces your body’s natural ability to regulate its temperature. Cutting back, even a little every day, can help.
  5. Wear lightweight and light-colored clothing. If you’re working outside, covering exposed skin with light-colored clothing reduces thermal radiance from the hot summer sun. Bees are also annoyed by red or black, another reason to lighten up on colors.
  6. Find a cool place for a break. A few minutes in the shade or A/C of another building, or even in your car, can restore your equilibrium and help you avoid heat stroke. Ahhh.
  7. Eat spicy food. Heat from spicy food causes blood circulation to increase, which cools you down. So go ahead and add as much Sriracha or Cholula as you like.
  8. Mist-ify yourself. Fill a spray bottle with water and ice to mist yourself to prevent heat-related illness. You’ll feel a lot better because you’ll cool down as the water evaporates from your skin.
  9. Choose the right gloves. If you must wear gloves for work, find a pair that’s breathable. Gloves that allow sweat to evaporate will keep you cooler in summer, but they keep you warmer in the winter too.

Heat stress is no joke. But the good news is that you do build a tolerance to working in the heat over time, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Take precautions to prevent heat-related illness during the first hot weather days of the year, and you may find that these safety tips will help keep you comfortable for the rest of the season.

  • Beverly Mapes

    Beverly is a business owner and operator since 2008 and is actively involved in the human resources functions and employee management of her team members.