Outdoor work in the summer may be more comfortable than in the frigid winter, but it can be just as hazardous and tolling on the body. This is especially true when working with fire-resistant (FR)clothing, as staying cool in the summer can be a challenge that causes serious health problems like heat exhaustion.
Our guide will explain what you need to stay safe while working outside in the summer, from the proper FR clothing to the signs of heat exhaustion.
Get the Right Gear
The gear and garment materials are a significant factor in working outdoors safely in the summer. Many flame-resistant work shirts are made with heavy fabrics durable enough to withstand the dirty work required at many sites that use FR clothing.
But there are also FR clothes with lighter fabrics with ventilation or even sweat-wicking technology to help keep the wearer cool on hot days. It’s wise to have a couple of FR shirts and pants in your closet designed for summer on those days you know you’ll be sweating.
Pro Tip: Ensure that other workers at the site have FR clothing that’s lighter and more breathable so everyone at the worksite can safely work in hot temperatures.
Make Sure the Fit Is Right
Along with having the correct type of clothing, it’s also crucial that the garments fit appropriately to help the wearer stay cool when the temperatures rise. You want clothing to be loose so that there’s air between the garment and your skin in case of burns, but you don’t want it to be cumbersome and exerting.
Tighter fabrics are suitable for absorbing moisture and cooling the skin, but they don’t allow the air to circulate and can cause severe burns if fire melts them. The ideal FR garment lets your skin breathe but doesn’t hang off your body.
On hot days, it may be tempting to opt for shorts or T-shirts or to take off the jacket and let your arms feel the wind better. But long-sleeve shirts and pants are safer regarding fire resistance and keep you cool and protected from the sun.
Long-sleeve shirts and pants keep the sun off your skin, preventing sunburn and keeping your body in the shade. It’s also wise to wear a brimmed hat under your hard hat to keep your eyes and face out of the sun, but make sure you can still wear your hard hat over it safely.
Go Light With Color
It may seem basic, but the color of your garment can feel like a 10–15-degree difference for your body. If you know you’re going to be working outdoors in the sun on a hot day, opt for clothing that’s a little lighter, so it’s not absorbing light and baking your body all day!
Stay in the Shade
Whether you work at a construction site in a metro area or on an oil rig in the ocean, give yourself as much shade as possible. If you’re starting to sweat and feel exhausted, take a break under a shady tree or any covering you can find.
If there’s no consistent shade at the worksite, consider setting up a tent or bringing an umbrella. Taking just a few minutes to catch your breath in the shade can significantly affect how your body feels in the heat.
Plan Around the Weather
When you know you’re working outdoors, it’s also wise to keep an eye on the forecast and plan your work and clothing around that. If the forecast predicts an absolute scorcher, consider scheduling the most strenuous or outdoor labor early in the morning when the sun hasn’t reached its full potential.
Or, you can opt to save the intense, manual labor for later in the day when there’s more cloud cover or the temperature drops. When the forecast calls for 90+ degree heat with little cloud cover or win, that’s when you should be taking special precautions against heat exhaustion for yourself and other workers.
It’s obvious advice, but drinking water is still the best way to stay cool and safe in sweltering working conditions. It’s not just essential to drink plenty of water while working, but before work and even the night before.
When working outdoors in hot weather the next day, avoid alcoholic and sugary drinks the night before so your body is at peak capacity for the grueling conditions. You don’t want to waste water if you have a limited supply, but apply cool water to your skin—like a wet rag to your neck—to cool your skin if you start to feel overheated.
Know Your Limits
We could give all the helpful advice we want, but your mindset is the most significant factor in staying safe while working in warm conditions. We all want to work hard and get the job done, but it’s not worth pushing your body past its limits.
Heat exhaustion is not something you can shake off with a couple of sips of water—if you push too hard, your body can shut down. Heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which can damage your internal organs or even be fatal.
Warning Signs of Heat Exhaustion
Before you start working outdoors in the summer, it’s wise to look for the warning signs of heat exhaustion for yourself and your fellow workers. Typical symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Excessive sweating and clammy skin
- Muscle cramps
- Weak and rapid pulse
- Loss of appetite
Keep an eye out for these symptoms for yourself and those you work with.
How To Treat Heat Exhaustion
If you start to feel these symptoms or notice someone else suffering from them, stop work immediately and inform the nearest medical supervisor. In severe cases, call emergency services, but there are some ways to treat heat exhaustion immediately.
First, you need to cool the body down as fast as possible. Get into an air-conditioned building or at least a shaded area. If symptoms are severe, immerse the body in cold water via a bath, shower, or nearby body of water.
After that, they’ll need to rest, drink fluids, and let the body cool down. Loosen the clothing and apply cold water to the skin and fan to accelerate the body’s evaporation cooling process.
Now you should know how to stay cool and safe while wearing FR clothing while working outdoors in the summer. Don’t forget the signs of heat exhaustion, and remember that the best way to stay safe is to listen to your body when it tells you it needs a break.