During the summer months in the United States, temperatures each day can reach well over 90°F. Working outdoors or treating patients in these conditions can be strenuous to the body, and it’s important to be aware of the dangers of working in hot weather and the proper safeguards to take. Communicating reminders with your team during the day, along with proper hydration, attire, and sunscreen can make a significant difference in your wellbeing when working in the summer sun.
When temperatures exceed 90°F, the human body sweats in an attempt to cool down. However, the more your body sweats, the more your internal temperature increases, and this change can result in physical and mental exhaustion. Fatigue caused by prolonged heat exposure can lead to clouded judgment, fainting, and dehydration. When paired with heavy equipment and working with live animals, it can result in serious injury or illness.
Associate veterinarians, veterinary technicians, handlers, clients—no matter who you’re working with, open communication is crucial to summer weather safety. If you feel unwell or if anyone you’re working with appears to be exhibiting signs of heat-induced illness (see chart below), speak up. In addition, adjust work activities to reduce risk. Schedule heavier tasks earlier in the day, set up work areas in the shade, and rotate workers to less strenuous or cooler areas when possible. Extra rest and acclimatization to the heat will go a long way to keeping you and your team healthy in the sun.
Hydration is the most important way to control the effects of heat on the body. It’s recommended to hydrate every 15-20 minutes when working outdoors. While water is typically the go-to liquid for hydration, it’s not the only beverage that can be consumed on a hot day. In addition to fluids, sweat also contains sodium, electrolytes, and other minerals. Gatorade and other sports drinks can help replace these additional elements and boost electrolytes. For the best hydration, consider a combination of sports drinks and water. During heavy work in a hot environment, drink two to four cups (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour.
In order for sweat to successfully cool your body, it must evaporate from your skin. Light, loose clothing allows your skin to breathe and allows for evaporation to occur. Long sleeves, full-length pants, and hats are also recommended to prevent sun exposure. Sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher should be applied to cover all exposed skin. Don’t forget to apply your neck, your ears, and the top of your head. Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every two hours. Lastly, polarized sunglasses offer protection from UV rays that can damage your eyes.