Tips to Help Prevent Heat-Related Illnesses on the Roof

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It’s the hot summer season and many of us are having fun in the sun.  But when you’re a contractor, the summer brings with it heat and humidity—and that’s no picnic.

An excessively hot or humid work environment is not only an interference that can lead to fatigue and poor judgment and decision making, but it can be downright dangerous. Therefore, having a comprehensive heat-stress program is paramount. Sufficient rest and proper hydration are key elements to any heat-stress program. Additionally, employees should avoid performing excessive outdoor physical activity prior to coming to work so as to avoid showing up at the job site in an already overheated and exhausted state.

Despite warm weather, heat-related illnesses (heat stress, heat exhaustion, heat stroke) can be reduced by implementing effective programs. Most importantly, employees should constantly monitor themselves and their co-workers for signs and symptoms of these illnesses, as immediate intervention is necessary when they’re observed.

Here are the signs and symptoms of heat stress:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Red, flushed skin
  • General body weakness
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps in the hands and feet
  • Dark-colored urine

To help avoid heat-related problems, make sure you have these countermeasures ready:

  • Allow for breaks in air-conditioned areas. If AC is not available, find shade, cooler areas, and/or fans.
  • Drink plenty of decaffeinated drinks. Sports drinks such as Gatorade are preferred, as they will replenish lost electrolytes.
  • Drink up to 10 8-oz. cups of water in an 8-hour shift. Be careful not to overhydrate.
  • Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink water. Thirst is a poor indicator of heat stress.
  • Wet your hair, neck, and face as frequently as possible with water or a spray bottle.

To help prevent work-related heat illnesses from occurring, pay attention to the weather predictions. If excessive heat and humidity are in the forecast, ensure that countermeasures have been developed and are ready to be implemented. Allow new employees assigned to high-heat areas time to acclimate to the elevated temperatures and humidity. Finally, do not drink alcohol prior to coming to work and avoid caffeinated drinks in high-heat situations. Caffeine is a diuretic and actually causes people to lose water!

By recognizing heat-stress signs and symptoms at their onset and following the above simple guidelines, you can help ensure that your employees will be safe on the job and minimize heat-related illnesses this summer season.


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  1. Tim

    I agree with JL 100%. Water is the only thing I drink on the job. I also prefer to start at 5am in the summer and many days I am forced to quit by noon or risk damaging the shingles. I will have to try purchasing thin white silk long sleeve shirts as well and see how that works.

  2. J. L. Foster

    Because of many years of working in extreme heat, I have found that sport drinks are not the answer for rehydration. Good for electrolytes but contain high amounts of sugar and other additives that the body does not need and can upset stomachs. Water is the only true solution to dehydration.

    You know you are hydrated enough if you urinate clear. If your urine is yellowish or even dark yellow, you are not hydrated properly. Also, a crew of 4 can consume 10 gallons of water on any hot/humid 8 hour day and still be dehydrated.

    Spraying water on the face and neck. The body sweats out a natural amount of water and oils in relation to the heat. These oils help in protecting the skin by reflecting sunlight. Spraying water on the neck and face washes away these oils and can provoke even more severe sunburn leading to “leather neck.”

    In my experience and many other contractors, because of costs we are never able to take many breaks unless the temps reach above 95 degrees F. Other than that, if we slow down to take breaks, we will be looking for another job real quick. If you want to keep the body cool, I suggest going to a thrift store and purchasing thin white silk long sleeve shirts. This will bring down the body temperature dramatically. You will use less sun screen which has become so expensive and it sweats off of the skin within 10 to 20 minutes, and with the extra layer of added oils on the skin, you can actually become warmer. Also, as you sweat, the silk will help cool you down tremendously as a breeze blows easily through the shirt cooling down your core. Finally, thrift store clothing can be worn repeatedly until too dirty, never washed and easily thrown away if containing tar as not to destroy or ruin washing machines.

    One must pay attention to his/her own body and tell the person in charge when they need a break as many people have different metabolisms. Old school will tell us that starting earlier in the day, such as day break and working until the warmest part of the day is best and safest for everyone. Many companies wish to start the day at about 7 A.M. Day break in the summer is about 5 A.M. A good crew and be off the roof by about 1:30 P.M., before the hottest part of the day.

    Avoid the excessive heat as much as possible and do not wear dark colored clothing, make sure you wear bigger brimmed hats, sun/safety glasses to prevent retina burn and always bring your own water supply other than what the foreman provides just incase.

    Additionally, people do drink caffeinated beverages. If you do, and many do, I suggest a lot of ice with a ratio of 70% ice and 30% soda to counteract possible dehydration. Alcohol is of course a no no even at beer thirty, after work. People who may have previously been sunburn/pitchburn may be subject to quicker dehydration episodes. Make sure you not only rehydrate during your work day but also in the evening as well. Hope this helps as everyone has their own plan. This is what saved me a tremendous amount of suffering from heat related issues.

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