A Checklist for Hot Weather PPE

| BlackHawk Team

Most everyone agrees that summertime uplifts the body and soul. Being outdoors on warm sunny days sure beats working in bitter cold bundled in a heavy coat and boots. But with the hotter temperatures and blue skies come the four evils of hot weather: Heat stress, dehydration, sunburn, and insects.

You can prepare your workers for summer work with the proper PPE and sensible precautions. Here’s how.

OSHA Guidelines

Know the rules. OSHA’s guidelines for preventing heat-related illnesses can be summed in three words: Water. Rest. Shade. OSHA offers a handy fact sheet for working outdoors in warm climates that we encourage you to share with your workers.

A PPE wardrobe primer

Dress for the season. Just as you have your personal seasonal wardrobes, the same is true for PPE. Pack the cold-weather gear away and outfit your workers with lightweight wicking apparel. Loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and long pants provide optimal protection in most cases.

  • Balance comfort and protection. Take care not to “overprotect” workers with apparel that might provide more protection than required at the expense of comfort. Be practical. For example, if conditions allow warehouse workers to safely wear short pants or short-sleeved shirts, you can adopt these as dress code options. But never sacrifice safety.
  • Items such as jackets and vests often have removable cold-weather linings or pockets for removable cooling packs. These versatile garments allow wear across multiple seasons of the year, making them a good investment.
  • Glove technology has developed materials that are lightweight, thin and incredibly durable. Look for gloves with ventilated fabric that affords the right balance of protection and comfort.
  • Don’t forget the feet! Many shoe manufacturers offer styles designed with breathable materials for comfort in summertime wear. These shoes keep feet dry and protected. There is no need for workers to wear winter shoes year round. The same goes for socks.

Hydration is critical. Dehydration is the leading cause of heat stress on the job. Mission One is to replenish fluids lost through exertion and evaporation. Encourage your people to drink every 15 minutes, thirsty or not — preferably water or electrolyte drinks. Caffeinated beverages like coffee and sodas are less helpful and may make things worse. Schedule breaks to keep your workers fresh. Encourage everyone to look out for telltale signs of heat stress in their teammates — dizziness, fatigue or disorientation.

So is cooling. The other way to prevent heat stress is to keep the body temperature at normal levels. Cooling bandanas and caps, vented headgear and cooling packs do the trick. Look for shirts, pants and vest with vents and breathable fabrics. Choose high-visibility colors for added protection — they’re perfect in construction, factories, warehouses and outdoor work.

Beware the sun. Prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage the eyes and skin and lead to skin cancer or other chronic conditions. Equip workers with protective eyewear with wraparound lenses that block between 99-100% of UVA and UVB radiation. Encourage the use of sunscreen of at least SPF 30.

Take it easy at the beginning of the hot weather season

Allow workers to acclimate. For the first few days in hot weather, workers need time to adjust to the conditions. Extra breaks may be warranted for a few days.

Keep bugs from causing health problems

Don’t get bugged. Linemen know all too well that insects and critters turn up everywhere in hot weather. Stock up on repellants and insecticides, and check your first aid kits for antiseptics and wound care items. Know who on your team is allergic to insect bites and stings and have medicine on hand to treat anaphylactic shock.

Is the equipment ready for use during hotter days?

Equipment check. Summer is a good checkpoint to inspect all gear for proper function and excess wear.

Prepare for COVID-19 prevention

And then there is COVID-19. Keep in mind that for many workers, wearing a facemask in hot weather, indoors or outdoors, is a first-time experience. The same goes for social distancing as people return to work. As such, there may be a few resisters in the ranks who think masks and physical separation are silly inconveniences. Masks and bandanas can interfere with breathing or cause spectacles to fog. If masks or respirators  are crucial for personal safety, be sure they provide the appropriate level of protection, fit securely and are comfortable. Ingrain self-awareness into your team with signage and regular reminders. Make hand sanitizers readily available.

Keep communication lines open

Discuss safety with your team during product training or at an informal “toolbox talk” before a shift begins. Emphasize that good safety practices are not only the law, but they exist to protect everyone’s health and well-being: employees, customers and workplace or jobsite visitors. Don’t preach, but rather encourage a two-way dialogue. Ask questions. Is there a rule or procedure than needs to be clarified? Is a piece of equipment regarded so uncomfortable that you need to look for an alternative? Does everybody understand what to do in the event of an accident or medical emergency? Be sure to review

food safety practices to ensure that workers keep lunches chilled or refrigerated before eating.

The good news is that heat-related illnesses are largely preventable if everyone abides by the rules. For more information, visit the Blackhawk Safety Blog pages or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.