With summer right around the corner, there’s no better time to start preparing to keep yourself and your workers safe and cool during the hot summer months. Every year, an average of 3,100 workers in America suffers from heat-related illnesses serious enough to make them miss work. Having a better understanding of what causes overheating and what one can do to avoid it can help minimize the chances of you or someone you work with becoming part of that statistic.
When it comes to staying cool in FR clothing, you should try to choose a lighter-weight fabric when possible, as heavier clothes trap heat against the body. Having more open-weave fabrics allows air to circulate through the material and pull heat away. Some FR clothing is advertised as moisture wicking – this means it is designed to avoid moisture buildup and ensure sweat can still evaporate off the skin to cool down your body.
For working outdoors, colour should also be a consideration – dark-coloured clothing absorbs more heat from the sun than lighter-coloured garments do. Looser-fitting clothing keeps that absorbed heat from reaching the skin and allows for better air circulation. Wear single-layer FR protection if appropriate for the task at hand. A wide-brimmed hat also helps shield your head from direct sun exposure.
Remember, though, that when it comes to FR safety, all layers of personal protective equipment must be FR-rated. A normal vest or shirt under a flame-resistant coverall could still melt or catch fire in an emergency situation.
While following these guidelines will help you to keep cool while wearing FR clothes in the heat, no clothing option can protect you from extreme environmental situations. Temperature, humidity and level of exertion always play a much larger role than clothing in how hot your body gets and how quickly.
Temps to Watch for
Workers should take care when engaging in strenuous activities above 30°C/30 per cent RH (relative humidity) and employ clear and straightforward safety protocols for taking breaks, rehydrating and getting out of the sun. Extreme caution should be taken in situations above 35°C/60 per cent RH. Take into account your co-workers’ ages, weight and health, as these factors affect the body’s ability to stay cool and cope with the effects of overheating.
Warning Signs of Heat Exhaustion
Last but not least, being able to identify the warning signs of heat exhaustion can make the difference between a mild case of overheating and potential heat stroke or even death. Cramping, headaches, dizziness and nausea are all symptoms of the body overheating. Sudden behavioural changes, confusion and seizures are signs the worker is suffering from heat stroke.
Taking the person into a cooler environment and rehydrating with water or a sports drink are essential first steps. If they have suffered a seizure, have stopped sweating or have an abnormally high body temperature (above 40°C), emergency medical attention is needed. If a worker cannot keep liquids down, intravenous rehydration is necessary.
There is no doubt that working in the heat can be dangerous, but by taking an appropriate amount of breaks, staying hydrated and listening to your body, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to stay cool, comfortable and safe while wearing your FR clothes during the summer months.
Mark Saner is the FR technical manager for Workrite Uniform Co., a company based in Oxnard, California that manufactures and sells FR apparel.