It might not be exciting but it’s a very important topic – heat safety for working outside.
Without a doubt, the number of gardening chores rises with the summer temperatures. I know what it’s like to tell yourself, ‘I’ll just do one thing then take it easy.’
Have you ever been able to go into the garden and just do one thing? When I’m watering, I notice weeds. When I’m harvesting, I notice weeds. When I’m weeding one area, I notice more weeds. Ok, so the weeds never end. One job becomes two (much bigger) jobs. I have a hard time limiting myself to one activity.
There’s been a couple of days this summer that I overworked in the heat and then felt sluggish for a few days afterwards. I ignored my own signs and kept working even though I should have stopped much earlier.
The challenge becomes recognizing the conditions for heat illness, preparing yourself and your chores for the heat, and monitoring yourself as you work. Maybe the most important step of all, especially for my tendencies, is actually stopping before you feel sick.
I’m not a medical doctor. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your physical activity and possible limitations.
Related Posts: How to Start a Garden
(This post contains affiliate links.)
Are You at Higher Risks of Heat Illness?
While everyone is susceptible to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, there are certain groups of people that are at at even higher risk (source), including:
- Elderly or young children
- Compromised immune system
- Sleep deprived
- Those wearing heavy clothes like laborers and firefighters
- Those taking certain medications
- Those unaccustomed to heat and to physical labor
- Those who have had heat stroke before
Even if you don’t fit into one of those categories, it’s always smart to check in with yourself about how you’re feeling today and this season.
Things change from year to year and between our seasons of life. For example, I may have been able to work for hours in the heat while I was also training for a half-marathon that summer but now, with a new baby, my lack of sleep and dependence on coffee sets me at a disadvantage.
Planning Your Weekly outdoor Tasks for Heat Safety
1) Prioritize Tasks.
The to-do list never seems to get any shorter during the summer. But during a particularly hot week or two, keep it as simple as possible. You probably need to prioritize watering and harvesting to keep your plants happy and your baskets full.
2) Check the Weather for the week.
Check the weather weekly and daily. Don’t just check the temperature. Look for the heat index, which combines the relative humidity and the temperature for a more accurate representation of how ‘hot’ it really feels. This is a helpful video about different heat warnings from a NOAA scientist. Also, look for extreme weather possibilities.
If you’ve been living and working outside in your area for a long-time, you’ve probably become familiar with the weather signs and patterns. For example, I know that in late-July and through August, it’s very easy to have pop-up thunderstorms. This might not be the best time to be working far from shelter.
If there’s the chance for extreme weather, build that into your safety precautions.
3) Avoid work between 10am and 4pm.
This tends to be the hottest part of the day where the sun is getting up in the sky and the ground is radiating the heat back. My husband, who works outside, goes to work earlier during the summer so he can leave earlier.
When you work with machinery, you have to consider a lot of things besides the heat index. Don’t forget about the heat from your equipment and the extra layers of safety gear (like a helmet, steel-toed boots, or chaps).
Heat can also make you tire quicker than in mild temperatures. So, if you are working with equipment, be sure to factor that into your daily plan. It is probably smarter to do the riskier work earlier and leave the less dangerous tasks to the end of the day.
With kids, I find it a lot easier to work before they get up or after they go to bed so this works out well in the summer.
4) Plan with your shade.
Think about how the sun moves around your work areas. You might be able to start working on one garden bed by 4pm if the shade has come over it or you might need to water the tomatoes at 6am if the sun hits there by 7am.
5) flex your schedule with your daily life
During the summer, there is A LOT of things going on. Especially in the northern hemisphere, we tend to be outside as much as possible. That means swimming/beach time, barbecues, camps, camping, and even training for sports. Think about the heat, how much activity you’ve been doing (in all of our life’s activities), and the priority tasks. You may need a day or two to recover from spending all day at the beach. You may feel rested after doing a movie theater trip with the kids. I know it’s not always possible if you’re working around family and work schedules but keep an open mind each day.
Heat Safety Tips
- Keep to your heat-avoidance schedule.
- Stay hydrated with electrolytes.
- Get enough rest.
- Wear light-weight & breathable clothes. (I love my cooling towel.)
- Try a wide-brimmed hat.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol (even the day before).
- Keep kids and animals out of hot enclosed areas like cars.
- Monitor your kids – they can go from playing to sick very quickly.
- Take breaks in the shade.
- Try to work with other people in case of an emergency.
- Rest in the air-conditioning.
- Cool off with a swim or sprinkler.
Warning Signs of Heat Illness
Reputable websites like the CDC offer important signs and symptoms of the different stages of heat illness so be sure to memorize these for when you’re out working. You might just save yourself or your coworker. Be safe so you can savor your labor of love.
Have you struggled with working in the heat in the past? Do you have any favorite heat safety tips?