Recently came the tragic news of an A/C service technician who was electrocuted while inspecting a rooftop unit in an industrial complex on Long Island, N.Y. Initial reports said that the man accidentally touched a 440-volt circuit during the inspection.

The tragedy points out the need to take precautionary measures while working with electricity and serves as a reminder of the inherent dangers that come with working under these conditions. As Harry Baldini, a visitor to The News' HVACR Forum (, said, "Sometimes we tend to get lazy and/or sloppy when dealing with electrical circuits. Never take a disconnect or a breaker for granted. Always check for power with a reliable instrument."

It isn't only electricity that we need to worry about - it is also the working conditions this time of year.

Working In The Heat

During hot weather, extra caution needs to be taken to avoid dehydration or heat stroke. Both conditions can be life threatening if not treated, but both can be prevented if adequate safety measures are followed.

Dehydration results when the body loses water content and essential body salts such as sodium, potassium, calcium bicarbonate, and phosphate. Heat stroke can result from long, extreme exposure to heat, in which a person becomes dehydrated and does not sweat enough to lower body temperature. For more information on the symptoms and treatment for dehydration and heat stroke, visit

Some of the obvious ways to avoid heat stroke and dehydration are to try to minimize exposure to high temperatures, which normally occur in the afternoon hours and in confined spaces, like attics and mechanical rooms.

One suggestion would be to schedule service and installation on mechanical equipment in the early morning while temperatures are normally at their coolest.

Some visitors to The News' HVACR Forum offered some additional suggestions.

Robin Boyd made several good points. "Keep the water intake constant," he said. "Wear a bandana to absorb sweat and keep it from dripping into your eyes. Keep from stirring up the dust and insulation as much as possible.

"If you are installing an HVAC system, be sure that there is good ventilation before starting. If there is no attic fan in the roof or gable, sell one and install it first. Install the air handler/furnace first. Wire it up and let it blow to at least keep the air moving.

"Don't stay in an attic that is over 120 degrees F for more than 30 minutes at a time without coming down to cool off and drink water. Salt tablets or salty drinks like Gatorade are also a good idea to keep your body from losing too much moisture. Every time you come out of an attic, try to rinse with cool water to keep your skin cool."

Norm Christopherson noted, "The better contractors that I have worked for have an ice machine back at the shop. Each morning, all technicians fill an ice chest with ice and put it in the van. Having ice water available all day is almost essential to me."

"Forget about time constraints," urged Baldini. "Do the job correctly the first time so you don't find yourself on a callback in the same hot attic."

My own advice is to keep your workers safe by constantly staying in touch with them, offering safety reminders, and making sure they have what they need. You might even want to visit the jobsite and take employees some cold drinks. It shows how much you care.

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax), or

Publication date: 07/05/2004