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July 19th, 2019 in Madison Wisconsin, fires at two electrical substations resulted in more than 13,000 customers losing power during a powerful midwest heatwave. With temperatures reaching a consistent 95+ degrees Fahrenheit in a majority of midwest and east coast states, many with severe heat warnings, first responders, linemen, and workers alike are going to see an increased amount of incidents to respond to across the US. While the dangers that this line of work presents in unavoidable, preventative actions can be taken to avoid heat exhaustion in the peaks of the summer season.


The first step to heat stress prevention is understanding the unique work environment and the standards that surround it. Lineworkers can’t simply throw on a cotton shirt or tank top and call it a day in the summer heat. There are many standards that surround the level of protection they need with their clothing; The main one being NFPA 70E (Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace). With this in mind, layering workwear in the summer can be a challenge, particularly with FR and ARC rated clothing.

1) adding extra protection, cooling properties, and airflow to the base layer

The base layer is oftentimes more neglected than others. FR t-shirts are thicker than normal fabric or cotton, and if designed without the proper materials that allow for airflow, these shirts can be a challenge to layer with long sleeve FR shirts with proper certifications and/or hi-vis coloring.


Fortunately, there are lightweight FR t-shirt options that are designed to have moisture control and breathable fabric properties. For instance, the DragonWear® Pro Dry™ Long Sleeve is inherently FR, offers permanent moisture management, and adds an extra layer of CAT 1 protection. This helps to add airflow to the base layer (or in some cases, this may be the outer layer) and ultimately keeps the core body temperature cooler to prevent heat exhaustion.

2) Protecting from sunburn and covering sensitive neck/head regions

Another, if not one of the most important factors to heat stress prevention in the workplace is avoiding harmful UV rays from the sun. Sunburns are much more than simply getting a bit red from being out in the sun too long, but rather your skin’s defense mechanism to prevent damage to the deeper layers where the rays can affect or even damage to nerves and cells.


A bad sunburn can also affect the perceived body temperature, as there is increased blood flow to the affected areas which can cause mild to extreme discomfort. A severe sunburn can also lead to “sun poisoning”, or worse, heatstroke which will greatly affect one’s ability to function for the day or in some cases result in death. Wearing breathable neck gaiters, bandanas, a do-rag, or a hybrid accessory that can be used as all of these will greatly reduce exposure to the sun. Additionally, if the accessory has heat-resistant properties, this will also help reduce core body temperature much like that of a cooling base layer.

3) hydration - keeping plenty of fluids on the work site

There is an old adage that states eight 8oz glasses of water are needed per day, however, the origin of this is truly unknown. While this may come as no surprise, staying hydrated is, if not the most important factor in heat stress prevention. In fact, water makes up 60% of the human body and signs/symptoms of dehydration can kick in just after a 1-2% loss of that. Lineworkers provide a service that requires quick and easy access to water.


Unfortunately, in many cases, wearing a hydration pack might be out of the question when climbing poles or perhaps wearing an arc flash harness. However, this doesn’t mean there is no possibility to come prepared with proper hydration. Store fluids in a travel bag, or an attachable accessory pocket that can hold a 1L bottle of water. Additionally, OSHA recommends that work sites are equipped with plenty of water and kept in visible locations close to the work area.


Surely, there are more than 3 options for staying cool while on the job in the summer season. For example, many utility workers may opt for a light-colored long-sleeve FR t-shirt. This still retains the same heat-resistant qualities as a short sleeve but won’t trap as much heat due to its lighter color. It truly comes down to layering workwear while assuring that the clothing still meets the safety standards and certifications required by the job. Additionally, more information about protecting workers from heat stress can be found on this OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) informational card.