As temperatures here have been soaring, with heat indexes surging to 110° or more, it’s a good time to remember that cleaning can be intensive, physical work. Not every environment that cleaning staff work in is air conditioned, either. Here are five ways to keep yourself or your staff safe:
1. Drink Water. Before, During and After
The CDC compares your body with an air conditioner. Both have built-in thermostats to keep things cool when it gets too hot. Your body stays cool by sweating. But, just like an air conditioner that needs its coolant liquid topped off, your body needs water to help keep you cool. Under OSHA law, employers must provide workers with water, rest, and shade.5
- Drink about 2 cups of water BEFORE you begin your shift. This is the equivalent of one 16 oz. bottle of water.
- Have water on-hand to drink for breaks.
- After you’re done with your shift, drink plenty of water to help replenish the stores you’ve used up during the day.1
2. Dress Cool
Choose breathable fabrics for your clothes. Cotton, linen, and rayon are all good choices as they are lightweight and breathable.2 However, some fabrics like cotton will also soak up sweat, which can be uncomfortable. A moisture-wicking fabric might be a good alternative as well. Also, the color of your clothes is important. The color of an object is determined by what colors of light it absorbs or reflects. Black shirts, for instance, are absorbing all the light and heat. White shirts, on the other hand, are reflecting the full spectrum and thus stay cooler.3
3. Shoe Away The Heat
Something that might be less obvious when keeping cool is how important your footwear is. Nearly ¼ of all the sweat glands in your body are located in your feet!1 That means you should choose shoes that are breathable as well. Dress codes or safety issues are still a concern, but there are plenty of shoe options that include breathable fabrics, loose knitting, vents, or mesh components to help keep your feet cool.
4. Avoid Caffeine
Although a cup of coffee in the morning might be a good pick-you-up to start the day, and a can of soda might seem refreshing, they can be your enemy during a hot work day. Caffeinated drinks have a mild diuretic effect, which just means it promotes urination. This effect is mild enough that it won’t lead to dehydration on its own,4 but combine it with high activity in the heat and it’s just making it harder for your body to retain that water for cooling purposes. Water is the best choice to keep hydrated, but sports drinks with electrolytes can be effective as well. Just watch out for all the extra sugars sports drinks can contain.
5. Listen to Your Body
Finally, listen to your body. If you’re feeling week, dizzy, or thirsty take a break in the shade or a cool place and drink some water. If you’re managing a cleaning staff, encourage them to take breaks if they feel overheated. Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for protecting workers against extreme heat and monitoring workers for signs of illness. OSHA recommends planning for a work/rest schedule during high-heat conditions to protect workers from heat-related illness. They note that rest periods do not mean unproductive periods. Workers could be encouraged to do light work like attending a meeting, sorting small items, receiving training, etc. OSHA has a guide for what protections to take with workers, depending on the heat index. See the chart below for more information.5 For more on OSHA’s campaign for keeping workers safe in the heat, visit their site here.