By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Working through the heat
Outside workers cautioned about possibility of injury
Samuel Kennedy and Ronnie Cox, OMI parks and grounds employees, start weeding machines Tuesday morning as they worked on Washington Avenues median. They and other employees of the citys public works contractor are repeatedly reminded of the risks of working in heat and the precautions they need to take to assure they are not injured by it. - photo by Randy Murray

Today’s forecast predicts temperatures will be down slightly from what they’ve been in recent days, but that’s little comfort for people whose jobs put them outside most of the time.

“I’d like to see the temperature drop 25 degrees,” OMI worker Ronnie Cox said, laughing, Tuesday morning during a safety meeting when possible rain was mentioned. “You can see it’s not even 9 o’clock yet and we’re already sweating.”

To prevent heat injuries, CH2MHILL/OMI Director Gregg Higgins said his organization ensures each employee is aware of every safety risk and takes precautions to prevent injuries, including heat injuries.

“All of our crews, except administrative people and vehicle maintenance, work outside,” he said. “We have an integrated safety management program that makes awareness of safety issues the most important thing. Every morning, our crews hold tailgate meetings that include talking about the safety issues for a particular job.”

He said the meetings first establish what the hazards are — i.e., traffic, snakes or heat — then what controls need to be in place to mitigate the risks. With those guidelines in place, they implement the safety plan as part of their day’s work, he said.

The plan for preventing heat injuries includes doing as much work as possible in the early morning and late afternoons. It also includes each crew having its own large, insulated cooler filled with ice and water, Higgins said.

He said supervisors also carry extra cases of water and a special “cold bucket” that contains a cooling blanket, cooling vest, cooling cap and neck cooler. This kit is used when an employee shows signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, he said.

“Our sanitation crews start their hours early to avoid the hotter part of the day,” he said. “They begin their pickups at 6 a.m. and try to complete their rounds by 2 p.m. Of course, that doesn’t end their work day, but the most physical part of their job is over before it gets really hot.”

Although some jobs can be done at night, Higgins said most work crews can’t adjust their hours.

Before 9 a.m. Tuesday, parks and grounds supervisor Kenna Graham was meeting with Cox and Samuel Kennedy at the intersection of Oglethorpe Highway and Memorial Drive. They were about to begin lawn maintenance.

In addition to talking about the day’s job, they talked about safety hazards, including taking frequent breaks and drinking lots of water. Kennedy said he was hoping for an afternoon rain that would reduce the temperature a few degrees and lower the humidity.

Graham removed the cold bucket from his pickup to demonstrate its contents while Kennedy and Cox removed weed eaters from the back of their pickup and began work.

Wearing their bright yellow shirts to alert traffic to move slowly around them, the men started their day. With his crews informed and prepared for another summer day, Graham left to check on another crew.

Sign up for our e-newsletters