Chill Out! How to release the heat when you have to work in it.

If you work in the heat, you already know it can wear you out.  Working in the heat can take a toll on muscle function, awareness and decision making, and causes us to be more fatigued.  That is why it is important to plan for keeping your cool before you ever start to heat up.  Of course this is true of the fun activities, social get togethers, or chores during our free time, in addition to work activities. Use these 10 Tips as a guide to helping you and your team stay chill, strong, and safe.

  1. Pack a Big @$$ Cooler with ice in zip lock gallon freezer bags,  8+ small damp towel, and water. 
  • Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!  Water helps you cool your body and avoid dehydration that can cause your brain to become fuzzy, your muscles and joints to become stiff and painful, and can contribute to  fatigue that leads to poor focus and decision making, confusion and irritability.  Consider having a team drink break every hour so no one forgets to hydrate.  Do not wait until you are thirsty, set an alarm if needed.
    • If you do not like water, try adding just enough fruit juice or electrolyte mix to add some flavor. 
    • Place a cool moist towel around your neck and shoulders.  Every hour change it for a fresh one.  This chilled treat will help you reduce overheating and your brain and muscles will love you for it.  If you do not have enough towels, throw the same towel back in the cooler to rechill.  Don’t worry – your ice is in zip locks so it should stay clean, however murky your towels get.

Side Note:  Ditch the coffee and the alcohol, or at least reduce it.  Your heart and brain are already challenged in the heat.  Do not give them the added work of managing these beverage choices.

  • Add ice from your clean zip locks to your water if it helps you drink more.
    • When you take a break, place one of the ice bags on your back, head, or thighs as you take a load off.
  • Create a Chillax Space that is convenient to the work you are doing. Take a true break at least every two hours.  This should include space and time to cool off, relax a little and hydrate a lot.
    • Create an area with shade, a breeze if you can (Big @$$ fan), and a place to sit and truly relax.  If you have access to an air conditioned room or vehicle, use it.  Just have a space available that will help you regain your bodies equilibrium.
    • Have everything set up so you can maximize the break benefits to your best ability within your circumstances.  This includes having the cooler within easy reach of your chill space.
    • While you sit and relax, drink some water, and use an ice bag from your easily accessible cooler to help you fully chillax.  Enjoy some fresh fruit and pickles while you’re at it to help with more hydration and electrolytes.
    • Reminder… Take Breaks and drink water!  Yes it is admirable to be strong and resilient and driven.  It is also admirable to be smart!  Our very human bodies have very real needs, and no one gets to cheat health and not LOSE strength and ability.  You will ultimately get more done if you take strategic and effective breaks.  Be that smart.
  • Plan your day to maximize cooler temperatures.  If possible, plan your tasks to avoid the hottest parts of the day.  Try to do the more physically demanding tasks during the cooler times of day after preparing your body properly. Take chill breaks more frequently as the day heats up, but do not wait until you are already overheated… stay ahead of your body’s needs.
  • Consider adding some spinach, pickle juice, lentils, legumes, apricots, or nuts and seeds, as a healthy way to add some natural electrolytes.
  • Electrolytes are minerals that help regulate ph. levels, help keep you hydrated, improve muscle function and more. 
    • The principal electrolytes required in the diet are sodium, potassium, and chloride.  Calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus are additional common electrolytes.
    • If you are buying electrolyte products,  do your research and avoid those with high amounts of sugar.  While some sugar can help with absorption, too much can reduce the effectiveness.
  • Supplement your hydration with water rich foods.  Watermelon, Honeydew melon, Strawberries, Peaches, Bell Peppers, Celery,.  Pineapple, cucumbers, lettuce zucchini all have high water content and help your digestive system, helping your body handle the heat and other stressors more effectively.  Try to have the water rich fruits and veges chopped up and in your zip lock bags for easy grab and go treats when you take a break or just need a boost.

Note that the sugar in fruit is processed more slowly than sugar in soft drinks and candies.  It also provides necessary nutrients.

  • Dress to stay cool.  When possible choose lightweight, breathable fabrics like cotton or moisture-wicking materials. Wear loose-fitting clothing that allows air circulation around your body. Don’t forget to protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.  If you are wearing heavy safety gear,  take off what you can during breaks to more effectively cool down.  Consider changing into fresh socks and shirt partway through the day if it is an option. 
  • Apply a good sunscreen to exposed skin frequently to minimize risk of sunburn.  Consider wearing long sleeves and pants in light weight and lose fabrics to protect your skin.  You skin is your biggest organ and it plays an important role in the cooling process. According to Dermatologists, sunburned skin is inflamed and the blood vessels under your skin that help to cool the body are already in a state of distress. 
  • Utilize cooling devices to help combat the heat, if permitted in your workplace. Portable fans, misting systems, or cooling vests can provide relief and prevent overheating. These tools can significantly improve your comfort level and enhance your safety while working in hot environments.
  • Get your circulation going.  Do some light stretching especially for larger muscle groups to help facility blood flow and reduce inflammation.  If you have been standing or active a lot, sit and take a break.  If you have been sitting a lot, get up and move around.
  1. Self-Assess – Take a team check or a self-check every time you take a water break.  Schedule these, set an alarm, put one person in charge of making sure the whole group participates.

Heat stress and heat illness is no joke, and it can sneak up without us noticing if we do not pay attention.  Monitor yourself and your co-workers.  Pay close attention to any signs of heat-related illness, such as dizziness, confusion, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, or excessive sweating. If you or a coworker experience these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. It’s crucial to recognize the early signs of heat-related illnesses to prevent them from escalating into emergencies.

A little planning and prep goes a long way in staying safe and maximizing any enjoyment with our summer season.  Remember the hardest part of making a change is the beginning, just getting used to the new stuff, then it is easier and the payoff here is big.  You will be safer, healthier, and have more energy at the end of the day for whatever makes life worthwhile for you.


Maria Sall

Ergonomist, Exercise Physiologist, and Injury Prevention Specialist

Tailored Injury Prevention Solutions, Inc.