The summer events season is in full swing, with outdoor festivals, concerts and sporting events taking place across Canada. Here in the Great White North, we love taking complete advantage of our relatively short summers. Outdoor events are crowded, patios are crammed every weekend…we need to get our dose of sunshine while we can!
However, the summer sun and heat can also pose a serious risk. Parts of the country have already experienced heat waves, and the consequences have been deadly. Earlier this month, 54 heat-related deaths were reported in Quebec alone.
Outdoor event organizers and volunteers need to take special care to protect themselves from heat-related risks. Trust us – with a workforce comprised largely of field employees, we know a thing or two about working in the heat. We’ve compiled some basic tips to help you stay safe while working outdoors this summer. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and there are a number of great heat safety resources out there. You’ll find a few helpful links throughout this post. We encourage you to do your research so that you and your volunteers can enjoy a safe and healthy summer events season!
Whenever possible, wear light, loose clothing that stops radiant heat but permits sweat evaporation to allow for efficient body cooling. Though it seems counter-intuitive, wearing clothing that covers as much skin as possible is best to protect you from sun exposure. Though tightly woven fabrics offer more sun protection than loosely knit ones, you likely won’t be comfortable wearing something like denim in 30+ degree weather. You may need to find apparel that strikes a balance between UV protection and breathability to ensure your comfort. The Skin Cancer Foundation has some great tips for sun-safe clothing.
To protect your face and neck, wear a wide-brimmed hat and UV-protective sunglasses while outside.
If you are the event organizer, consider providing appropriate apparel to your employees and volunteers. Many event organizers already offer branded t-shirts to their workers. Why not invest in moisture-wicking, UV-protective shirts that will help keep your staff safe and comfortable – while also providing brand exposure?
This is an obvious tip, but it’s worth mentioning because many people still don’t bother with sunscreen. Encourage your employees and volunteers to apply sunscreen, and remind them to reapply it regularly if they are sweating. As the organizer, you might even consider providing sunscreen to your staff. At Modu-Loc, sunscreen is something we make available to our field employees.
Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Don’t forget about your lips, which are also sensitive to the sun! Lip balms with SPF can be found at most drug stores.
Provide shaded areas where employees and volunteers can cool off and escape the blazing rays of the sun. Encourage your staff to take periodic breaks in these shaded areas or – better yet – in air conditioned spaces. Consider setting up fans to increase air flow and reduce humidity in break areas. You could even supply personal hand-held fans, if access to electrical outlets is limited.
When working outside in the heat, it’s crucial to replace the fluids you lose through sweating. Drink cool (between 10 and 15 degrees) water every 15 to 20 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty – and encourage your staff to do the same. You may need to consume as much as one litre of water every hour to compensate for fluid loss. Make sure to have clean, cool water on hand for your staff during set-up, tear-down, and the event itself.
You might be tempted to drink (or provide) sports drinks to replenish fluids and electrolytes. There is some debate about whether the average person (versus someone with a very physical occupation) really needs specially designed sports drinks. Regardless of which side you are on, you should try to moderate your consumption of sports drinks to avoid unnecessarily adding sugar or salt to your diet.
Finally, try to stay away from alcohol and caffeine. Aside from the obvious safety and legal implications of consuming alcohol on the job, alcohol actually interferes with the body’s acclimatization to hot weather. Caffeine and alcohol also both dehydrate the body, so it’s best to stick to water when battling the heat.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), heat-related illnesses include:
Heat stroke is the most serious of the heat-related illnesses. Symptoms of heat stroke include elevated body temperature and loss of consciousness, and it requires immediate first aid and medical attention.
Don’t just know the symptoms of heat-related illness – have a plan in place for such emergencies. This includes training your staff to understand and respond to the signs of heat-related illness, and having emergency contact information available. It’s a good idea to provide sun/heat safety information to your employees and volunteers. The CCOHS has some great resources available, including this publication and these posters.
We’re here to answer any questions you may have.