Temperatures are hovering in the 90s and the heat index is pushing the "feel like" temperatures over 100 degrees F. Suddenly, the worker feels weak and light-headed. Red blotches appear on his skin. He begins to feel nauseous. Soon he is dizzy and begins to lose consciousness.

He wants to scream for help, but he is alone on a rooftop and no one can hear his weak cries. He is in a world of trouble, a victim of heatstroke. HVAC service technicians work on roofs every day, and, in hot weather, these workers are susceptible to the dangers of heat stroke.

Although heat stroke can affect workers at any time in any location, whether it is on a roof, in an attic, or even in a shady backyard, the effects of heat stroke can be lessened or prevented with proper precautionary measures. Implementing measures to prevent heat stroke is not only the humane thing to do - it is the moral obligation of every employer. There is no priority more important than ensuring the health and safety of employees.

Before sending out your techs to work in a hot environment, consider some of the following words of advice from people who work in the field every day.

Start Early, Stay Late

The best time to work outside is in the cooler morning or evening hours, when the effects of the hot sun are minimal. These conditions can rule out a standard nine-to-five job for techs during the warm summer months.

One Mississippi contractor said that in exceptionally hot weather and on a dark roof, it is not uncommon to work at night under floodlights. He said that for the most part people are sympathetic and don't complain too much about the early morning noise.

A South Dakota contractor said he works in 90 degree temperatures and high humidity. That means that early mornings and late evenings are a necessity. He said he tries to stay out of attics in the afternoons and schedules service calls to reflect that practice. He also added that not too many customers are willing to get up at 6 a.m., but yet they expect him to show up when they need him. He and his crew often work until 8 p.m.

A San Francisco-area contractor said that his municipality has strict regulations on when outside work can be performed, typically between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

He added that fines can run up to $1,000, and many contractors, especially roofers, "take the heat and suffer." But he did add that special permits can be issued, especially in cases involving larger commercial jobs and if improved safety is argued.

If You've Got To Do It

If there are no alternatives to working in the heat, here are some ways to ensure that your techs have maximum protection.

First of all, equip them with a lot of water. Drinking water on a regular basis can ward off both dehydration and heatstroke. As one contractor put it, require techs to carry an ice chest full of water. The chest can also be stocked with products like Gatorade® or Powerade®.

Encourage techs to keep cool packs in the ice chest that they can apply to their skin. One contractor suggested a product called the Isotherm Cooling Vest (available at www.grainger.com), which is designed to keep the body cool for 2-1/2 hours and can be easily recharged.

Another contractor suggested asking distributors for a bandana that can be filled with a gel and worn around the neck. He said he used the bandana gel while walking in a parade in 90 degree temperatures recently - and felt very comfortable.

Other suggestions include rigging up a fan to an old air handler and circulating air in a hot attic, using portable air conditioners, or even using a portable "swamp cooler" ducted to an attic with flexible duct. Other things to consider include using a beach umbrella, wearing a hat, and taking many breaks.

In any case, contractors should take care of their most important asset - their employees - and keep them safe in hot, dangerous weather. If you have a suggestion on how to ensure technician safety, visit our HVACR Forum at www.achrnews.com and tell us about it.

John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-464-1970, 248-786-1390 (fax), or johnhall@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 07/04/2005