Kelly Murphy, founder and creative curator, Events on the Loose, Deerfield Beach, Fla., has seen it happen firsthand. Perhaps the extreme heat catches its victims off guard. Or, they may simply take for granted the dangers of working under stressful heat conditions. Regardless, the results can be potentially dangerous and even life-threatening.
“I have had a few experiences with folks that don’t heed the warnings,” Murphy says. “Clients and team members that come in from northern or Midwestern areas don’t realize our proximity to the equator and try to brush it off only to end up in the emergency room.”
With summertime approaching, outdoor activities increase and, with it, the challenges of extreme heat.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), from 2004 to 2018, an annual average of 702 heat-related deaths — 415 with heat as the underlying cause and 287 as a contributing factor — occurred in the U.S.
Heat stress can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps or heat rashes. Heat also can increase the risk of injuries in workers as it may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses and dizziness. Burns also may occur due to accidental contact with hot surfaces or steam, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
“When we have had a situation with potential heat exhaustion, we immediately get the individual into shade and have them lie down, if possible,” Murphy says. “You try to regulate the body temperature with fans and ice packs, if available, on the neck and under arms and on legs or get them into air conditioning. When in doubt, call 911 as they are much better equipped to handle these situations.”
NIOSH recommends employers reduce workplace heat stress by implementing engineering and work practice controls. Some of those recommendations include training supervisors and workers about heat stress and implementing a buddy system where workers observe each other for signs of heat intolerance.
NIOSH also recommends training workers before hot outdoor work begins. The agency suggests employers provide a heat stress training program for all workers and supervisors about the following:
- Recognition of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and administration of first aid.
- Causes of heat-related illnesses and the procedures that will minimize the risk, such as drinking enough water and monitoring the color and amount of urine output.
- Proper care and use of heat-protective clothing and equipment and the added heat load caused by exertion, clothing and personal protective equipment.
- Effects of drugs, alcohol, obesity, etc., on tolerance to occupational heat stress.
- The importance of acclimatization to heat.
Murphy says her store can have as little as four and as many as 30 employees on a job site. That includes delivery and setup, event management and production. Her company supplies what goes underneath the tents for weddings along with social and corporate events.
Murphy works with many of the culinary festivals and build-out sponsor activations, including a variety of masking walls to divide or hide unsightly areas, setting remote kitchens, stylized lounges and other guest seating.
Murphy says some of the biggest concerns with hot weather is dehydration and heat stroke. This can happen in Florida any time of the year, she says.
“But, as we get into the summer months, it is even more so,” Murphy says. “We stress the importance of drinking water throughout the day and replenishing with electrolytes. We also recommend wearing a shade hat, sunglasses, sun block or sun sleeves as necessary for fairer skinned team members.”
Murphy says the company’s uniform shirts also are moisture wicking.
“In addition to heat stroke, we have to be careful with sun poisoning, which can be very dangerous and uncomfortable,” Murphy says. “Drivers are encouraged to bring coolers with ice and water in their trucks, especially when we are on a site longer than one hour. Then they stock up with additional snacks, such as fruits, veggies and nuts.”
Murphy says event teams on multi-day jobs are provided refreshments and healthy meals. She says fruits and vegetables are important and adds they will bring a pop-up shade tent when necessary if none are on site.
Her company handles quite a few events outside on a beach or poolside and well past the standard season of October through May. She says she reminds even the company’s core team of the heat precautions needed and it’s the first part of the store’s orientation when temporary workers are used.
“Also, working and walking on beach sand will tire legs more quickly, and that, combined with the heat and humidity, can create problems for even the healthiest,” Murphy says. “We share one sheet on heat safety as even the most experienced can still suffer the consequences. There is a reminder for each team member to be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke and to keep an eye on fellow team members for these signs as well.”
The humidity along with the sun makes for a double whammy, she says.
“The stress of time constraints and adrenaline pumping can push people in our industry to not be mindful of what their body is telling them,” Murphy says. “Listen to your body. Take shade breaks as needed and replenish with water and electrolytes.”