Trying to beat the heat

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Outdoor workers push through high temperatures

By Kacie Goode

With temperatures hitting the 90s this month, emergency responders and weather officials have offered advice and warnings on staying cool. But for some, working in the heat is part of the job.

“They are out there anyway,” said Kroger Phillips, a manager for the local road department, of his crews. But on days when the heat is high, there are options to consider.

Phillips mentioned that when temps reach the upper 90s and 100s, workers could take small breaks to pace themselves or adjust their start schedules on projects. They can also switch out jobs on certain days. Blacktopping and working in areas with no shade for extended periods of time, he said, would be jobs to avoid in high temps when possible.

Phillips also said taking necessary precautions are important, such as staying hydrated, being aware of heat stroke symptoms and “let crew leaders know if they are experiencing symptoms,” immediately.

While some jobs allow for flexibility in extreme heat, others have to simply work through it and stay safe.

“The grass doesn’t quit growing,” said Austin Douglas, who is working the summer with Willett’s Lawn & Landscape service.

Meeting lawn care needs in the city, county and parts of Louisville, employees are used to working in the heat.

“The more heat the better, actually, because it dries up the grass,” Douglas said.

It’s just a matter of taking the proper steps to keep cool.

“Sunscreen. Lots of water and sunscreen,” said co-worker William Kelley.

Hats are also a good option to protect against sunburn.

“We usually work 10-12 hour days,” Douglas said, adding that heat isn’t going to stop them from getting the job done and they’ve never had any issues when it comes to heat illnesses among the crew.

For those who don’t have access to an air-conditioned office or an option to take the day off when temperatures rise, taking preventative steps will help workers lower the risk of heat illness.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, thousands of workers become sick each year from occupational heat exposure. Some even die. But the illnesses and deaths are preventable.

Factors that put workers at a greater risk of heat exposure include higher temperatures and humidity, working around heat sources or hot objects, direct sun exposure, limited wind or ventilation, physical exertion and wearing heavy or non-breathable clothing.

Employer responsibilities

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that each worker has a right to a safe workplace, that employers must provide that safe workplace and that employers cannot retaliate against employees for exercising that right or raising concerns.

While OSHA does not require employees to provide air-conditioned work environments, they are responsible for protecting workers from extreme heat and are encouraged to establish a heat illness prevention program. This program could include providing workers with water, rest and shade; acclimating new workers or workers who have been off the job more than a week to build a tolerance for working in the heat; modifying work schedules as necessary; planning for emergencies, and training workers on how to recognize heat-related illnesses.

To view employer responsibilities, workers’ rights, heat illness prevention materials or to file a complaint with OSHA, visit www.osha.gov.

Intern Katie Simpson contributed to this report.