Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Working In Extreme Heat

Working in extreme heat... ah, now Mike is speaking my language. I live in the southwestern desert of the US, and the last couple of days have hit highs of 115 degrees F -- that's deadly under most conditions. Guess you can say I'm use to dealing with extreme heat, I've been doing so my entire life, but not everyone is used to living with temperatures like that. Heat exhaustion can and does kill - trust me, I see it every day all summer long on the news. In this article, reposted from the Ottawa Citizen, Mike Holmes talks about working safely under the sun. He's no doubt drawing upon his experiences over the last 30 years of working as a contractor, but also his experience over the last couple of weeks, working in Toronto to rebuild the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground in High Park. A record setting heat wave delayed his crew's progress, and caused them to miss their July 7 deadline. The playground was eventually finished a few days later on July 13, but for the safety of the workers involved, they were forced to slow down and take proper precautions. He talks about learning the signs of heat stroke, and responding to them appropriately before it's too late. Keep yourself hydrated, and of course, wear protective clothing to protect your skin and eyes from the sun and heat. Sunscreen may not help keep you cool, but it'll definitely prevent a sunburn that will cause you much discomfort long after your work is finished...

Mike Holmes: How to work in extreme heat

It’s important to drink eight ounces of water every 20 minutes when working in intense heat, says Mike Holmes.

It’s important to drink eight ounces of water every 20 minutes when working in intense heat, says Mike Holmes.

Photograph by: Robert Ray , AP

Over the past few weeks we’ve had a heat wave across the country. Many cities had heat alerts.
It’s tough working in the heat. I know. Recently my crew and I were pushing to finish a job in middle of it. In the end, we didn’t make our deadline. Crew members had to leave the job site. That always slows down the work, but, no matter what, it’s always better to be safe and delay the job or take longer to finish than to risk injury or heat exhaustion.
How hot is too hot?
Many homeowners don’t know the symptoms related to heat exhaustion. They’re not used to the heavy work or extreme conditions. They don’t know what’s normal and what’s not. They go into a job expecting to be tired and hot. So when symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke start to show up they’re usually brushed off — until it’s too late.
Professionals are used to working in the heat. But they can get into trouble too. That’s why guidelines, industry mandates and laws have been developed. Some include: Not scheduling outdoor work during extremely hot weather and times of day; increasing manpower while increasing the frequency and length of breaks; and starting a buddy system to watch for symptoms in others. These guidelines help protect pros from pushing themselves too far.

Many people don’t even realize they’re experiencing heat exhaustion. They think it’s “just the heat” so they keep working. Dizziness, confusion, blurred vision, nausea, muscle cramps and headaches — they’re all warning signs. Some people ignore them. They think they’re just tired, it’s part of the job. But it’s not.
Heat exhaustion can lead to a heat stroke. But sometimes a heat stroke will completely bypass the heat exhaustion phase.
If a person has stopped sweating and/or urinating, is acting strangely or is upset or weak, they need to stop what they’re doing and get out of the heat. This is the body’s way of saying “stop.” Other signs include a dry mouth, developing a red, bumpy rash, or if urine is dark yellow.
Don’t minimize the symptoms. Respect what your body is telling you. Consider putting the job off until later in the day when it’s cooler or even until the following week if it’s a long heat wave. It’s hard to pull yourself away when you have goals and deadlines, I know. But no job is worth risking your health.
Plus, some building materials, like paint, drywall mud and concrete, don’t react well in the heat. Don’t do the job if it’s too hot. You might save yourself from doing the same job twice.

What happens to your body?
When you’re hot, your body sweats to help cool you down. But too much heat puts stress on the body’s cooling system. If the humidity is high, the sweat won’t be able to evaporate and cool you off. And if you’re dehydrated, you can’t sweat.
Dehydration is bad. People don’t usually think it’s a big deal. But on top of straining your kidneys, dehydration reduces the volume of blood in your body. This means the heart has to pump harder and faster. The consequence? An increased risk of a heart attack.
Dehydration also causes the blood to thicken, increasing the chance of a blood clot, possibly leading to a stroke.
There’s also an increased risk of injury if you continue to push past exhaustion. You can get dizzy and fall. Salt in your eyes or fogged up safety glasses can prevent you from seeing. Or, if it’s really hot, you might not wear a hard hat or long-sleeved pants or shirts when you should be covered up.

How do you manage the heat?
One solution local firemen taught me was to use a cooling chair. These chairs help lower your body temperature.
A cooling chair is a basic outdoor chair, but the armrests have bags full of cool water — not ice water. Ice water would be too much of a shock to your system.
The blood vessels on your forearm are close to the surface of your skin. Fully submerging your forearms, from elbow to wrist, in the cool water helps cool your blood. Try it yourself: Lay your forearms in a sink or basin of cool water. You’ll notice how quickly your entire body starts to cool down.

What precautions should you take?
Put the job off. Take breaks. Work smart. And drink lots.
Take frequent breaks. Reduce your pace or work slower. Adjust your schedule so you work early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Avoid working in the sunlight. Wear a hat, safety sunglasses and sunscreen.
Make sure you hydrate. How much is enough? At least eight ounces every 20 minutes — but if you’re a larger person or working really hard you’re going to need more water more frequently. Carrying extra equipment like a safety harness, heavy tools and materials puts a bigger demand on your body. Don’t forget to factor that in.
Having had heat exhaustion before makes you more vulnerable to it in the future. So if you’re the kind of person who likes to work hard, take it easy in the heat.

Catch Mike in his new series Best of Holmes on Homes, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit For more information on home renovations, visit

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