Let me tell you a personal story about heat stress.

A couple of weeks ago, I made plans to remove the stove pipe from the roof and living room as we no longer had the wood stove for which the stove pipe was installed when the house was built about 20 years ago. The living room is the only single-story section of the house as the remainder of the house is two stories. I picked up all of the materials needed to do the task the day before. I had been watching the weather that week and there was no chance of rain and the sun was going to be shining the weekend I chose to do the task. The task was basically removing the stove pipe, replacing a small section of plywood, and then replacing the shingles. I am not a full-time home builder or remodeler or a construction professional. I am a do-it-yourselfer with significant experience in home repair do-it-yourself projects.

I started by accumulating all of the tools and materials I needed onto my back porch on the end that was not covered. It received the morning through late afternoon sun so I knew I was going to be in the sun most of the day.

I finally got started on the task and it was going surprisingly, pretty much as planned though it seemed to take longer than I had anticipated. I worked the remainder of the morning, into the afternoon. The sun got brighter and the roof got hotter. I was drinking water through the day as I always had a bottle of water on the roof with me. I took short breaks in the shade, while it lasted, close to the second story of the house into early afternoon. I came off the roof a couple of times to get tools or materials and went to the restroom. Because of my seven years as a medic in the Army National Guard and my knowledge as a Safety Professional, I monitored my urine output. The color was a little more yellow than clear though not really concerning for me and the output was not the same amount as I was drinking though not enough of a difference to cause me concern. About mid-afternoon around 2:30pm, I took a break and had some chips and decaffeinated, sweet iced tea and took about a 30-minute break in the shade on the covered porch. My wife and I talked about how the task was going surprising well though seemed to be taking longer than I had anticipated.

Before I took the extended break, I had started putting down the shingles and had a couple of rows in place. After the break, I climbed back up the ladder to the roof and began what I thought was going to be the final push of the day and complete the patch on the roof with putting down the remaining rows of shingles. I was only installing about one-third of a square of shingles, which equates to about one package of shingles so the patch was not that big of an area.

I was on the roof for less than an hour and that is when I started feeling weird. I was tired which would be normal. I started getting more irritated than normal as I could not seem to hit the roofing nails and bent a couple having to remove them. I started to feel “shaky” and light-headed. That feeling of being light-headed on a roof caused me some concern so I went over to the area on the roof that had been in the shade where my bottle of water was and I sat down and finished my bottle of water. I thought all I need is to drink more water, take a short break and I can finish. As I sat there, I did not feel any better so I got concerned. I sat there for a few more minutes and decided that I should get off the roof, out of the sun, get another bottle of cold water, and take a break. But I was very close to being done, probably less than an hours-worth of work remaining. I thought it was a better idea to get off the roof before something happened. I climbed down the ladder, asked my wife to get me a bottle of water, and I sat in the shade of the covered porch. It did not take long to finish the bottle of water though I was still not feeling good enough to go back up on the roof. Most of it was my concern for the symptoms I was showing of heat stress and part of it was I lost the motivation to finish the task as I knew I had another day in the weekend to get it done. After I sat there a while, I cleaned up my tools and materials and took a shower. I got up the next morning and finished the task in less than an hour.

The reason I shared this recent true story with you is to emphasize that we all need to watch out for heat stress. It can happen to anyone whether a “seasoned” Safety Professional or a worker in a manufacturing environment or construction worker or a do-it-yourselfer on a weekend job. We need to do all we can, which is what I was thinking I was doing, to work so I did not get heat stress such as drinking water, eating small salty snacks, taking breaks in the shade, and paying attention to urine output and quality. We all need to be aware of and watch out for the signs and symptoms of heat stress, some of those being fatigue, muscle cramps in the legs and arms, thirst, dizziness or lightheadedness, heavy sweating. We need to realize that we cannot work through the symptoms and, magically, it will get better. Acclimatization is very important and that is giving your body time to get used to working in the heat which takes 7 to 14 days (NIOSH).

OSHA has a good Heat Stress Prevention page at (https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/index.html)

For more information, contact:
Wayne Vanderhoof CSP
Sr. Consultant/President
RJR Safety Inc.

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