For those of us who work outdoors, summer is typically a welcome time of year. Longer daylight hours, plenty of work, and usually nice weather in which to work. But with summer often comes a few heat waves, and right now much of the country is in for a doozy. Plenty of records being set, excessive heat waves, massive thunderstorms and power outages.
Even my trusty i-phone is feeling the effects. I went to make a call earlier today at work, and a big yellow exclamation mark appeared on the screen with a brief message -- "Excessive Heat. Please allow iphone to cool off before using."
Here in the Philadelphia area, we've had consistent temperatures in the mid to upper 90s, and the forecast calls for
continued heat through the next few days. Triple digits are even in the forecast for the weekend.
And as much as us outdoorsy types usually welcome the warmer weather, if we fail to take a few basic precautions, that heat can cause some serious health problems. Even the fittest and most strongest can feel the effects if we're not careful. Here are five basic precautions to take to avoid falling prey to the heat.
1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Make sure to keep up with with water intake. This doesn't mean waiting until you're thirsty to grab a drink, by that point the body is playing catch-up. And it most certainly doesn't mean drinking lots of coffee in the morning or drinking too much alcohol the night before. Avoid drinks with caffeine, sugar, or alcohol, this includes most energy drinks. The best thing to do is "prime the pump" with plenty of water consumption in the morning, consistently throughout the day, and in the evening before bed. It sounds cliche, but stay hydrated!
2. Adjust the hours of strenuous activity, if possible. Sure, it's our job to work hard during the day, but if we can get a little earlier start, or get the bulk of the heavy work done earlier in the day before the heat peaks, it will help.
3. Take your time. My best workers are animals. Seriously. They're big strong guys who are athletes and are used to pushing their bodies. But even the biggest and strongest guys can fall victim to the heat if they're not smart about it. Take a little breather between wheelbarrow loads or at regular intervals during digging. If you wait until you're feeling weak or tired, it may be too late.
4. Dress smart. The best clothes to wear are loose fitting lightweight clothes that breathe and will keep the direct sunlight off your body. The tendency is for guys to think that the less clothes they wear the better. This is false. Have you ever noticed that workers in the middle east tend to wear loose-fitting robes that cover most of the body, or that Central American workers often wear long sleeves or even long pants? These guys know what they're doing. There's a reason workers in the desert regions of the world don't go shirtless. Keep the body shaded and out of the direct sun. That doesn't mean wear a sweater or a jacket, but don't let the sun affect your body any more than need be.
5. Listen to your body. If at any point during the day you're feeling excessively tired, light-headed, nauseous, or experiencing muscle cramps or headaches, take a breather. Find a cool spot in the shade, drink a cool glass of water, and try to cool off and regain your strength. For people who are used to pushing themselves, this may seem like a wimpy thing to do and you may think this shows signs of weakness or a poor work ethic. To the contrary. As a boss I'd rather have a worker who is taking care of themselves to remain productive, instead of pushing themselves to the point of being completely useless.
A few other quick heat-related notes. If you are on any special medications, be sure to check with your doctor to make sure that you aren't prone to any additional heat-related side effects. Diuretics and antihistamines in particular can cause additional problems if you're out in the sun or heat for a prolonged period of time. And even if you're not working outdoors, make sure you check on the elderly, your pets, or young children to make sure they're doing OK.
We can't change the weather, but we certainly can control how it affects us. Be careful out there!