Setting Limits When It’s Too Hot to Work Outside

Olivia Elsher

Aug 27, 2020

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If you work in an office, summertime means making it from your car to the workplace without getting sweat stains. But what if you work outside? This season can prove hazardous to those in such positions when temperatures soar. 

When it’s too hot to work outside, you need to take extra precautions. You also need to understand how to interpret the heat index and when you should assert your rights. Here’s what you should know and the best practices to follow. 

Who Is Most At Risk?

When you think of heat-related illnesses, your mind might gravitate toward roofers laboring in the sun. Those in the construction-related trades do face an elevated risk. Road, roofing and outdoor job sites present apparent hazards. Farm laborers, too, face dangers when they tend the back 40. 

However, you might not recognize other professionals at risk. Mail carriers, for example, often lack AC in their vehicles and may have to walk in the sun. The same goes for delivery drivers and oil and gas rig workers. Landscapers likewise face exposure to the elements when on-the-job. 

Best Practices for Heat-Related Work

Society needs these professionals, but that doesn’t mean they should have to risk their lives. Fortunately, following safety rules can reduce or eliminate heat-related illnesses and deaths. Anyone who works outside benefits from taking the following measures to prevent overheating. 

  • Cover up: It seems illogical, but clothing is some of your best protection against damaging UV radiation. You don’t want to wear anything non-breathable, but you should cover most of your body in tightly woven fabrics. 
  • Wear sunscreen: You should slather yourself with SPF-30 or higher. 
  • Hat and shades are mandatory: UV radiation from the sun can damage your eyes. 
  • Get in the shade: If you can move your work to a shady location, you can drop the temperature by several degrees. Try to do this in the hottest hours between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. If you work in an arid region with little tree cover, you can erect a canopy or other structure to block the sun 
  • Start early: You don’t want to work outdoors in the heat of the afternoon. To protect your safety, get as early a start as possible — as soon as the sun rises. 

Keep Yourself Hydrated 

Dehydration can contribute to health-related illnesses. How do you know if you are dehydrated? Watch for the dual signs — thirst and dark-colored urine. 

You don’t want to guzzle, especially if you feel overheated. Doing so can make you feel nauseous and potentially vomit, which can exacerbate dehydration. Instead, take small sips every 10-15 minutes or so. 

Understanding Heat Index Ratings 

The heat index takes both temperature and humidity into account. If you live in a coastal or lake region, the moist air can render even reasonable-sounding temperatures dangerous. If the index exceeds 91 degrees, you need to take additional precautions. 

However, remain aware that working in direct sunlight can overheat you even if it stays below 91 degrees. The critical factor remains listening to your body. If you start to feel sick, don’t try to push through the pain. Take a break before you reach the danger zone. 

What Are Your Rights?

Can you walk off the job when it’s too hot to work outside, even if your foreman says no? Unfortunately, it remains a risky proposition. You do have the option to file an OSHA complaint, although you’d have a better chance when going in with a group of coworkers. Otherwise, you could face a challenging and pricey legal battle. You might prevail, but you could lose income in the meantime. 

However, if you notice signs like hot, dry skin, hallucinations, confusion or dizziness, alert your supervisor and call 911. These signify potential heatstroke, and minutes could make the difference between recovery and death. 

Preventing Heat-Related Illness When It’s Too Hot to Work Outside

When it’s too hot to work outside, you need to take extra precautions to safeguard your health. Follow the guidelines above and survive the summer safely.


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