With temperatures reaching the 90s in the Northeast, heat advisories in the Midwest, and record heat in the West this summer, it’s a good time to remind — or retrain — technicians and installers regarding the dangers of heat stress.

In simple terms, heat stress is a signal that the body is having difficulty maintaining its narrow temperature range. The heart pumps faster, blood is diverted from internal organs to the skin, breathing rate increases, sweating increases, all in an attempt to transfer more heat to the outside air and cool the skin by the evaporation of sweat. If the body can’t keep up, then the person suffers effects ranging from heat cramps to heat exhaustion, and finally to heat stroke.

Techs and installers sometimes work under extreme conditions inside hot equipment rooms and on hot roofs, where temperatures can be as much as 30 degrees higher than on the sidewalk. Contractors need to encourage employees to work smarter rather than faster.


The National Capital Chapter of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) supplied some valuable suggestions and safety tips in its June newsletter. They are worth repeating here.

  • Don’t rush the technician to a next job without a break. Allow shorter working days or working when it is cooler. Do more strenuous jobs during early morning or late in the day. Another suggestion is having crews work split shifts that range from 4- to 6-hour shifts.

  • Constantly remind your employees to drink water frequently, avoid table salt, and wear colored, cotton protective clothing and a vented and brimmed hat. Allow employees to wear shorts and comfortable shirts, but encourage them to keep their shirts on. Light colored clothing reflects heat.

  • Remind technicians that in dry, hot climates, they might not feel wet or sticky, but they are still sweating and need to consistently replenish fluids they are losing.

  • Make everyone aware of the importance of avoiding caffeine and alcohol. Many cases of heat stroke have occurred the day after a “night on the town,” according to CNA Insurance.

  • Remind technicians of the dangers of sweating and working with a live electrical control panel. There are protective gloves they should wear.

  • Require technicians to check in with your office every two hours. Have your office page anyone not checking in to ensure his or her safety.

  • Ensure all your technicians are checked out each evening from their last job. During hours your office is closed, have them check in with a person you assign to be on call.


    Of course, it’s good to have air conditioning in all supply trucks. Coolers and cups should also be on board, along with sunblock cream, safety sunglasses, water and Gatorade (or similar liquid), clean towels, and rubber, insulated gloves, designed specifically to protect from electrocution due to sweating while working with electric control panels. A list of numbers to call in a medical emergency is also recommended.

    Just as important is what a technician or installer does if he/she suspects a coworker is suffering from heat stroke. It’s wise to take the person in question to a cool place and get medical help if the person has any of the following symptoms:

  • Pale and hot, dry skin and fever;

  • Rapid pulse rate and rapid and shallow breathing;

  • Feeling sick, dizzy, faint, and possibly having nausea; and/or

  • Confusion or unconsciousness.

    To help a person suspected of suffering from heat stroke, it’s advised to cool the person by covering him/her with damp cloths or by spraying the person with water. One can also fan the person until his/her temperature returns to normal. The best thing is to call emergency service, as heat stroke is nothing to take lightly.

    You just never know. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

    Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446; 248-362-0317 (fax); markskaer@achrnews.com (e-mail).

    Publication date: 07/15/2002