How to Keep Cool This Summer
Overheating is one of the real dangers of working outdoors. Here’s how to avoid it.
By Alexis Griffee
With summer fast approaching, we look forward to longer days, barbecues and more time to enjoy our family and farms. Despite our appreciation for summer, one thing that we often do not think about is how to safely homestead when the weather is dangerously hot. According to the Center for Disease Control, 3,500 people died from heat-related complications between 1999 and 2003. A misconception is that it is just the young and elderly who are at risk of problems with the heat. If you are going to be outside working frequently, it is vital to know the dangers of the heat, the warning signs of trouble but also how to protect yourself and those around you. Learn how to keep cool this summer.
Certain conditions do make you more susceptible to heat-related illness. It is important to be aware of these predispositions so that you can be on the lookout for the early warning signs of trouble. Needing time to get acclimated to the heat is not just an excuse to take it easier when working. It takes approximately 10 to 14 days for your body to acclimatize to work outside in hot conditions. During the acclimation period, you are more susceptible to heat. During this acclimation period, it is suggested to keep up on your recommended water intake. Starting work properly hydrated will aid in the acclimation process and is sound advice anytime that you work outside. Other issues that will affect the adjustment period to strenuous outdoor work is your current fitness level, if you are dealing with a minor illness (cold, low grade fever, sore throat), or if you are taking certain types of medicines known to cause photosensitivity.
DON’T BE THIRSTY
A common problem during the summer is dehydration. Simply, dehydration is when the loss of water from your body outweighs the amount that you are taking in. Sweating, while necessary and a natural part of our body’s heat defenses, takes its toll of our hydration levels in our body. While mild dehydration can generally be remedied by proper hydration, it can also be a very serious problem. Signs of dehydration include dark colored urine, weakness, headaches, muscle cramps, dizziness, passing out and confusion. If caught early enough, simply cease your outside activities, go to a cool location and begin hydrating slowly. However, in the event of severe dehydration, you may need to go to a medical provider and be administered intravenous fluids.
Another more severe heat related threat is heat stroke. Heat stroke is actually a type of hyperthermia. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and needs to be treated as such. Symptoms include, confusion, agitation, disorientation and lack of sweating. In the event that you or someone you are with begins to suffer the symptoms of heat stroke, then need to be moved to a cool or shady location as quickly as possible and emergency services notified, as this condition can be fatal. If conscious, the victim should be given cool water, and have tepid or cool (not cold) water applied to their skin particularly in areas of sweating and groin.
While drinking water is good, and a necessary requirement for working in certain temperatures, it should be done in reasonable amounts on a steady basis. Hourly fluid intake should not exceed 1 • quarts. While dehydration results in not drinking enough fluid, you can also drink too much. Often times, when dehydration begins, it is tempting to drink as much as you can in an attempt to quickly regain all of the fluid lost through sweat. However, water intoxication is a very real possibility in these situations. Steady, continual intake of fluids not exceeding the recommended hourly amount will prevent both dehydration and water intoxication.
Just as important as the amount of fluids you drink is the type of fluids that you drink. When working in warm climates, or anytime you are trying to remain hydrated, avoid alcohol, caffeine and sugar-filled drinks. If you are looking to spice up your drink a bit this summer, add lemon to water, certain sports drinks or flavored water additives.
There are many products that can help keep your water cool and accessible while you are working. There are wearable hydration packs, canteens and even personal drink coolers designed to keep beverages cool for hours on end despite being in extreme temperatures. Ensuring that you have water close by that is kept at a cooler temperature will encourage your water consumption.
Even though you may not feel like eating during the summer, it is recommended that you do not skip meals or snacks, especially if you have been sweating a lot. While you do not have to eat heavy meals, eating will replenish your body with salts, calories and vitamins that were lost during your time of work. Some beneficial, yet light summer foods would be watermelon, bananas, tomato and cucumber salad, grapes, chicken wrap sandwiches, tuna, chicken or egg salads, and many more.
WEAR SMART CLOTHES
While we cannot control the weather, there are ways that we can stay safe and beat the heat. As much as we may dislike sweating, it is our body’s natural method of cooling itself. Although putting on antiperspirant has become a part of our typical morning routine, it is best to skip it on days where hard work is planned outside and opt for deodorant instead. Antiperspirants work by clogging the sweat duct and not allowing, or at least drastically reducing, your ability to sweat. While this may be great in a social setting, it is inhibiting your body’s natural cooling response. Unlike antiperspirants, deodorants are not designed to prevent the natural sweating process. Deodorant works by killing the bacteria that feed on sweat and cause odors. Using deodorant in place of antiperspirant will help keep you smelling better without affecting your ability to cool yourself while you work.
When choosing clothing for summer work, there are a few aspects to consider. In order to successfully beat the heat and stay protected, you need lightweight and breathable attire. Many sports companies make clothing from synthetic materials that will wick sweat away yet also be light weight and breathable. Another place to look for summer-approved clothing is in the sporting goods store. Special lines of clothing have been designed for fisherman that will wick moisture away, provide full protection and yet still provide comfort and ease of maneuvering.
Some clothes, like cotton, simply absorb sweat and will hold it against your skin. Absorbent clothing will simply soak up the sweat and trap the heat against your body. There are new fabrics that are designed to wick the sweat from your skin to the outside of your clothing. By wicking the sweat away from your skin, it allows the sweat to evaporate instead of trap heat.
It is always recommended to avoid dark clothing when working in hot climates. Dark clothing absorbs heat more than light-colored clothing. Also, while it is tempting to shed or reduce clothing, it is vital to stay covered. Clothing like tank tops may seem like they would be a cooler option but they leave you exposed to the sun’s direct rays. The less direct sun you are exposed to, the cooler you will feel. Additionally, staying covered will also help you to avoid painful sunburns.
Cowboy hats go far beyond style when it comes to surviving the elements. The cowboy hat as we know it today was invented in 1865 by J.B. Stetson. This design was made with cowboys in mind, as they had to endure some of the roughest work and harshest weather imaginable. The wide brim of the hat helps to keep the sun’s direct rays off of you. While the iconic cowboy hat is usually made from beaver pelt, there is a more modern and heat savvy hat used by many farmers in hot climates. Straw cowboy hats are a great aid when it comes to beating the heat. The straw allows the hat to be able to breath more and keep your head cooler while still providing the sun protection with their wide brim. Generally speaking, straw hats of this sort are an affordable, durable and readily available option for your summer survival gear.
Another great tool in your warm-weather clothing arsenal is the humble bandana. Bandanas are versatile, extremely useful and a must for all farmers. Bandanas can be tied to cover your head or to cover your neck to prevent sunburn. In times of extreme heat, bandanas can also be used to cool you off. A bandana that has been wet by cool water is always a welcome relief on a relentless summer day.
The well-known and popular Spanish word siesta is derived from the Latin hora sexta, which means “sixth hour.” This “sixth hour” translates into midday when the day reaches its hottest point and the sun reaches its full intensity. While often joked about or misunderstood, for untold generations numerous cultures have partaken in siestas for good reasons. Sometimes as farmers and homesteaders you simply have no choice but to work through the day while there is light available. However, you do not have to take a nap to participate in the wisdom of resting during the harshest and hottest part of the day. With proper planning, breaks, lunches or even bookwork can be completed during this time. Altering your schedule around the time can still be productive and save you from the extra risk involved with pushing yourself too far in dangerous climate.
No stranger to hard work or extreme weather, the United States military has developed a guideline for working in temperature extremes. It takes into consideration the outside temperature, your work pace and provides you with a suggested work/rest time. For example, for a person partaking in moderate work in 82 to 84 degrees, the suggested pace is to work for 50 minutes and rest for 10. A more extreme example would be someone involved in moderate work at a temperature range of 90 degrees and up. In this “level 5” at a moderate work pace, it is suggested you work 20 minutes and rest for 40 minutes and consume one quart of water an hour.
The military breaks down activity levels into three distinct categories. These categories are easy work, moderate work and hard work. Although the examples that the military provides for these categories does not directly relate to farming activities, you can determine approximately where your work level would coincide. For example, easy work may translate to feeding livestock grain or collecting eggs. Slightly elevated, moderate work would translate to scrubbing water troughs, or even planting or harvesting on a tractor without climate control. On the most extreme end of the spectrum, hard work would include tasks like putting up fence, moving hay bales in from the field, and cleaning barns and stalls by hand. While these examples may not all be things that take place on your personal homestead, they will give you a general idea of your activity level and the care that you need to take while completing your tasks.
As farmers, the work must go on, even in the dog days of summer as others sit comfortably in their air-conditioned homes. Animals, crops and people alike all depend on the farmer and rancher for their food and all that they provide. While this responsibility does place us all under pressure to push ourselves for the good of others, it is also the exact reason why farmers really must make sure that they do all they can to take care of themselves, too. Through proper planning and tools your summer can be enjoyable and free of dangers. By making small modifications to your wardrobe and routine, while ensuring hydration and planning your work around the forecast, you can make summer productive and safe.