Even if your work is largely indoors, don’t underestimate the dangers of heat exhaustion and dehydration
Though plumbers aren’t strangers to the difficulties of working during the hot summer months, many underestimate the dangers associated with such work, like heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Statistically speaking, heat exhaustion and dehydration result in a number of deaths every year that could have otherwise been prevented had proper safety precautions been taken. You can count plumbers among the workers who are exposed to this risk despite the fact that most of the work is done indoors. Factors like poor ventilation can cause the summer heat to have just as much of an effect on indoor workers as outdoor workers.
But the dangers posed by heat exhaustion and dehydration are preventable, and further, they don’t have to interfere with your work. Just keep the following safety precautions in mind.
Dehydration is not only a safety risk, but also a significant productivity risk. If you fail to hydrate regularly in the summer heat, you will likely find that your work is conducted less efficiently and your results are of lower quality, which can hurt the bottom line and damage your professional reputation.
Take the time to hydrate consistently and frequently. If you’re the sort who gets quite entangled in your own work, you may want to set a timer on your cellphone that goes off every 20 to 30 minutes, reminding you to drink some water. Bring along a refillable drink bottle (or even a hydration backpack), so you don’t have to run to the store to get more water at inopportune times.
Most experts also recommend that plumbers and other at-risk workers go to their assignments pre-hydrated. In other words, have a few glasses of water before you leave the house, so that you don’t show up to work feeling groggy and somewhat dehydrated already. It can be difficult to stay hydrated throughout the day if your body is not starting at “neutral” or better when you begin your workday.
Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, and Iced Drinks
Caffeinated, alcoholic, and iced drinks should all be avoided during the typical summer workday because, depending on the drink, they can make your fluid intake more inefficient and cause you to become more dehydrated.
Caffeine is a diuretic, which makes it more difficult to retain necessary hydrating fluids.
Alcohol is a powerful diuretic and should generally be avoided for up to a day before a long shift. Minor alcohol intake within 24 hours of your shift may be OK if the weather is not expected to be oppressively hot and humid, but it is best avoided.
Iced drinks can be too cold for effective hydration. They can constrict blood vessels, which makes subsequent hydration slower and more difficult. Drink water that is slightly colder than room temperature, instead.
Adjust Your Schedule According to Heat
Check the weather for the week ahead of time before you finalize the timetable on any of your projects. If there is a severe heat wave — in combination with poor ventilation — you could be exposed to significant health risks that are worth avoiding altogether. Adjust your schedule to the weather accordingly.
If you are not self-employed but work for a manager, then they have a responsibility to ensure that you are not put in harm’s way. If your manager requires you to work in the middle of a heat wave (and does not reschedule when the weather clearly poses a health risk), then you may be entitled to recover damages for any injuries you suffer as a result.
Use Adequate Sunscreen
Though the risk of developing skin cancer on any particular day is relatively insignificant, regular exposure to direct sunlight over the course of a long plumbing career elevates the cancer risk quite a bit. To minimize this risk, always use sunscreen if you expect to be exposed to direct sunlight for more than 30 minutes at a time.
Depending on how long you’ll be exposed to sunlight, you’ll want to adjust the SPF accordingly. For hours and hours of exposure, you may want to consider SPF 50 and above, which is what construction workers (and other industrial workers) generally use.
Consider a Cooling Vest
Cooling vests have become a popular item for outdoor workers and plumbers in recent years, as they can help regulate your body temperature and keep it from spiraling upward. There are several different types of cooling vests, from evaporative cooling (where water in the vest works in conjunction with various cooling agents to keep temperatures low), to ice chilled vests (with coolant packets installed throughout the vest), to vests with water flow systems. This diverse selection means that you can find a cooling vest at a variety of price points.
Wear Clothing That Reduces Exposure to Sunlight
Many people don’t realize that heat exhaustion risks are associated with “heat index,” which is essentially a measure of how the body perceives heat. Heat index is associated with actual temperature, humidity, and sunlight exposure.
To keep the heat index low on a particularly oppressive summer day, wear clothes and accessories that minimize direct exposure to sunlight, such as wide-brimmed hats, large sunglasses, long-sleeve shirts and long pants (made of lightweight materials, of course), and other clothing that provides adequate skin coverage.
About the Author
Attorney Mitchell Proner is an experienced personal injury, construction accident and workers’ compensation attorney representing clients throughout the United States. For more information, visit www.prolaw1.com.