by Cris Blackstone, NHCLP
This year, in particular, we didn’t experience an “acclimatization period” where there was a gentle
segue from spring days and rising temps to our first heat wave. We saw the weather hit instant summer, it seemed. Due to this lack of acclimatization to the warm/hot temps, some people experienced particular difficulties – and the difficulties our bodies experience are not necessarily related to age, experience, weight, or familiarity with summer landscape workloads. There’s a delineated range of heat-related conditions to be aware of: heat rash, heat cramps, advancing to heat exhaustion and culminating with heat stroke. Being aware of what these stages may look like for you or a member of your landscape crew is essential for everyone’s health and well-being.
Keeping an eye on each other is the first, simplest way to prevent problems at a job site or traveling to your sites. While these steps sound “simple” it’s important to consider how we stay hydrated, wearing loose lightweight clothing and apply sunscreen are the first key elements in summer safety. Encouraging employees to take time to rest and cool down not only helps you show true management skills; that encouragement will help employees job performance will soar, too. Recognizing your employees’ efforts in bright sun and high humidity goes a long way to help attract and retain dedicated employees. Reading about heat related illnesses, a repeated fact is that the sun is at its strongest between 11 am-3 pm, which is also prime time for a customer’s expectations for your crews, too. Explaining to your crew that you promote their health by encouraging them to take breaks, avoid caffeine, and drink water or sports drinks with electrolyte replacements will help them help themselves at a job site.
Sweating is a way our bodies cool off and maintain a regular temperature and protect our metabolism. When we can’t cool off enough, our sweat may be depleted and the first evidence of heat illnesses show up as a rash or commonly, as muscle cramps. The muscle cramping may be ignored, as coming from hard work – lugging wheelbarrows of mulch material, or situating new plant material with heavy root balls. Make sure you work with employees who experience muscle cramping, and remember this can be a sign of early heat illnesses. In California, for example, there are clear regulations, and a schedule of fines for infractions employers face if the regulations are not adhered to and promoted to the workers. A minimum of one quart of water, per hour, each shift, is expected for each worker. Consider such a standard as you work effectively with your crew for everyone’s safety.
Training materials available from the National Safety Council as well as the US Department of Labor and Occupational and Health Administration should be considered as part of your early season training program for all returning employees as well as new hires. These materials are free, and on their websites. Most materials are available in English and Spanish, and cover every aspect of summer safety for the employee’s benefit as well as yours, as a manager of a terrific crew!
Summer safety doesn’t need to be left to your imagination or experiences from previous years. There are several straightforward, beneficial apps for your smart phones to consider. Take some time to check out OSHA or OSHA-NIOSH heat safety tools in your app store. These apps let you enter the temperature, humidity, and location, and show you what precautions may be best to consider for that time period, for example. You can see these apps for yourself and decide what may work for you, what you might like to have your employees or job site managers download to be on the lookout for each other, which is still the front line and best way to keep everyone as comfortable as possible while meeting the expectations you have for your crews and customer satisfaction.
Midsummer signals include some flowers concluding their cycles, and many, many yet to blossom. With one heat wave behind us, and many more heat index days ahead, be prepared to stay safe and aware of the health risks heat and humidity can bring to you and your crew members.