It likely takes a special sort of person to work over a freshly poured layer of hot, bubbling asphalt, while temperatures are heading towards the high-to-mid 20s under a grey, smoky sky.
A small group of such individuals found themselves on Orillia Street Tuesday morning to fix several potholes on the road. As they poured, raked and prepared to flatten the asphalt while wearing heavy overalls and signal vests, it was hard not to offer them right then and there a tall one, or at least at big, frosty glass of water.
They, of course, were hardly the only ones sweating under the sun. The hottest months of the year are also the busiest for construction crews. But the recent run of hot weather — Environment Canada recently lifted the second heat warning for Greater Victoria in as many months — has drawn additional scrutiny to the dos and dont’s of working outdoors.
Overall, WorkSafeBC identifies three causes of heat stress: the environment (heat from sunlight and humidity), the work (the more active, the more heat workers will produce), and the worker themselves. While regular work in hot environment conditions workers to be less prone to heat stress, poor health (such as obesity and various medical conditions), lack of hydration and inappropriate (or excessive) clothing increase the danger.
Jerry Paula, public works supervisor with the District of Saanich, said preparation is key. This means getting ready for the conditions before heading out on the job site. It means bringing along the right type of food and sufficient liquids. Crews like the one working on Orillia Street will drink four to five litres a day, he said.
The other day, he joined a crew for period, only to find out that he had not brought enough water. Along with drinking water, crews also receive encouragement to stretch to prevent cramping, he said.
Other techniques also help crews beat the heat. They include scheduling work, when possible, during times of the day when it is less hot. Other techniques include micro-breaks lasting a handful of minutes, and rotating tasks to ensure no one crew member remains stuck with the most strenuous duties.
Finally, crews receive encouragement to keep an eye out for each other.
According to WorkSafeBC, workers in a hot environment should be aware of the warning signs of heat stress: excessive sweating, dizziness and nausea.
If not recognized, they can lead to heat cramps and result in heat exhaustion (symptoms include shallow breathing; increased heart rate; weak, rapid pulse; cool, pale, clammy skin; and headache and nausea), and ultimately heat stroke, which can be deadly.
According to WorkSafeBC, the most effective way to reduce the risk of heat stress is to eliminate the source of exposure, and employers like the District of Saanich are subject to series of heat protocols.
So what does Paula like to do after a hot day?
“I like to have a glass of water,” he said.
As for the Saanich crew working Tuesday morning, they received some good news.
Weather forecasts call for cooler weather in the coming days.