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Heat stress

Managing heat stress

July 1, 2011

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What type of gear should a worker wear when temperatures in the job environment fluctuate during the course of a day?

Responding is Adria Ensrud, product specialist, Ergodyne, St. Paul, MN.

Work and sweat go together like smoke and fire, nuts and bolts, or lightning and thunder. Sweat is the body’s natural way of cooling. With more than 2 million sweat glands, the average worker will sweat 8 liters in an eight-hour workday. The key is to manage the perspiration effectively by wicking it away from your skin where it can evaporate. On the job, it is critical to stay dry and comfortable.

It is helpful to think of workers as “occupational athletes,” with the skills, training, tools and motivation to get the job done right. Just like professional athletes, whose uniforms are designed to look professional and optimize performance, high-performance workwear offers far more than that pair of old jeans and cotton T-shirt from the top of the laundry pile.

Most high-performance garments today are made from technically advanced synthetic materials shaped, formed and spun into super-fine high-tech fibers. These fibers typically receive additional treatments that resist stains and odors, as well as provide ultraviolet protection. The result is engineered fabric designed to work as hard as it is asked.

Home on the range

The big question remains: When you wake up to 42° F and it is forecast to reach 72° F by mid-workday, how do you dress? This drastic range of temperatures calls for the layered approach, starting with a thin, tight base layer next to your skin. Moisture-wicking base layers are designed to transport moisture to the mid- and outer layers. Loose-fitting mid-layers then work by trapping warm air to provide insulation. Finally, the outer layer provides additional insulation and protection from Mother Nature’s harshest elements. Peel off or unzip a layer if it starts getting hot; layer them on if it is getting chilly. Note: In extreme cold conditions, OSHA recommends three layers at minimum to help prevent the onset of cold stress.

Hot and hotter

For work zones that vary from hot and hotter, it is all about wicking. When temperatures soar, a smart choice is a thin, loose mid-layer shirt to allow for optimal ventilation. Combine this with absorptive cooling products like terry cloths, sponges, elastics and high-performance technical fabrics to help trap or move sweat away from your eyes and off your hands to keep you comfortable and productive.

Fit, feel and coverage

None of this matters, of course, if the gear is not comfortable. Performance garments have to fit well, move with the worker and provide coverage – even when bent way over. Seams cannot stack up under harnesses or tool belts. The clothes need to be low maintenance (dry cleaning is not an option) while holding up to hard work and challenging conditions. Well-designed, proper-fitting, high-performance workwear helps employees feel good, look professional and stay focused on the task at hand all year round.

Editor’s Note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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