Hot jobs: How outdoor work crews take precautions during sweltering summer heat

Mark Rountree
The Leavenworth Times
Crews work to resurface pavement on Cleveland Terrace in Leavenworth recently when the temperature soared to 100 degrees.

Safety comes first.

That’s the message Becky Beaver relates to members of the city of Leavenworth’s street department.

“If you are thirsty, get a drink, get in the shade,” said Beaver, foreman of the street department.

Beaver’s street crew is among many people who work outside, and during the blistering hot days of summer, that can be a challenge.

“Our street crew is on a heat schedule when it gets really hot,” she said. “They go from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. So far, we haven’t had any heat-related illness – knock on wood.”

Staying hydrated is the key to working in the extreme heat, said Cayleb Peterson, assistant superintendent of a crew that recently worked to resurface pavement on Cleveland Terrace in Leavenworth when the temperature soared to 100 degrees.

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“You just got to keep drinking your water,” he said. “It’s really just common sense stuff. Lots of the guys use sunscreen when it gets this hot.”

The Leavenworth Fire Department works in overheated conditions year-round during a fire event. House fires can reach up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes, so firefighters wear protective clothing, learn safety techniques and work in shifts to prevent exhaustion.

Because of the work they do, work crews like Peterson’s must wear clothing such as heavy duty jeans and reflective vests over their shirts.

He said working in the heat is something his crew gets used to, although they still feel the heat.

“I think the hottest day we have had recently, it got up to 105 (degrees),” he said. “You feel that. But (working in extreme heat is) just part of the job.”

Peterson said his crew is on site working by 7:30 a.m. each day, and sometimes they work through the midday heat until 6 p.m.

Working in extreme heat can cause heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can include disorientation, unconsciousness, headache, nausea and a rapid, strong pulse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the CDC, people who are required to work outside in extreme heat should drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and liquids containing large amounts of sugar. People should also use sunscreen and try to avoid working during the hottest part of the day, if possible. People should also wear a brimmed hat and lightweight, light-colored clothing.

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Members of the Leavenworth school district grounds crew are shown weeding and mulching on school grounds.

When the temperature soars, Beaver said her street crew members focus more on weeding instead of hotter tasks such as repairing potholes with hot asphalt.

Dave Stokka, grounds coordinator for the Leavenworth school district, said his crews are involved in a number of hot jobs during the summer months, including mowing, HVAC service, parking lot painting, mulching flower beds, moving furniture, concrete, asphalt and roof work and maintenance of sports fields.

“We plan for a majority of outside or extreme temperature work in the morning to avoid the heat of the day,” Stokka said. “When it is at its hottest we will start an hour or more early to allow the same amount of work to be completed without the issue of extreme heat. We offer hats to our staff to help keep the sun off of them and encourage frequent hydration with water that is provided. In addition to these couple of items, we allow more breaks when working in the heat, trusting those performing these essential duties to take time and cool down. 

“The afternoons are focused more on activities that are inside buildings or at least in the shade of a shop. Performing maintenance on equipment for the next day can also take time in the afternoon so they can have an early start. We do not stop working, we just adjust what it is we do and when we do it."