Feeling Stressed?

July 1, 2001

Feeling Stressed?

Be smart in extreme weather conditions to optimize work performance, safety and health

By Keith Jackson

July 2001

So here you are, another steaming, 100-percent humidity, July afternoon in the hangar. Your clothes are soaked through. The drinking fountain is busted. You’ve got an annual inspection on a Cessna 172 due out yesterday, and that co-worker — the big guy who’s turning the color of a ripe tomato — is shuffling by again, mumbling how "It’s hotter than the hubs of you-know-where" in this place. As if you need to be reminded.
Sound familiar?
Most aircraft technicians have dealt with heat stress at one time or another. But, braving the elements is just part of the business — grit your teeth and bear down because you’re powerless to change it, right? With the right amount of knowledge and preparation, the dog days don’t have to be quite so miserable.

Heat stress
Richard Dresser of Dresser Safety Management of Deerfield, Illinois, is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and cites 6 major causes of heat stress:
1. Temperature
2. Humidity
3. Movement of air
4. Radiant temperature of surroundings
5. Amount and type of
6. Physical activity
Without looking specifically at each, we can say that these factors should be given equal consideration for two main reasons.
First are the potential effects on health and worker morale. People can’t produce at peak levels in miserable heat; workers are less likely to meet deadlines, more likely to miss work completely, and are even put in physical danger. In fact, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) states that workers should not be permitted to work when deep body temperature exceeds 100.4 degrees F. Likewise, dehydration and mineral loss as a result of heat stress can make it hard to focus, cause muscle memory loss, slow reaction time, drain your energy, cause heat exhaustion, heatstroke or heart failure, or aggravate existing medical conditions and illnesses, like high blood pressure or heart disease. Heat stress can also interact with or aggravate the effects of other workplace hazards, like noise or exposure to toxic substances. The Southeast Michigan Coalition on Occupational Safety and Health notes that heat stress may aggravate the effect of other toxins like carbon monoxide (which reduces oxygen supply to the tissues) because of increased strain on the circulatory system. Check the HAZMAT exposure and handling guidelines and adjust them down in hot weather.
Second is the unfortunate byproduct of this havoc being wrought on your body: the increased potential for personal injuries and maintenance errors due to inability to focus on the task. Attention to detail becomes next to impossible when your brain is baking like a potato soufflé. How do you stay sharp when all systems are being taxed to the limit?
The reality is that the stakes are especially high for the aircraft technician, who must focus all of his or her energies on productivity and safety — that of the passengers, and their own — in what are often nearly unbearable conditions.

Monitor that mercury
The first step in protecting yourself on a hot day is knowing exactly what level of dangerous conditions exist. The most important figure here is the apparent temperature, or how it feels outside when the combination of heat and humidity are considered. For instance, a temperature of 95 degrees F with humidity at 75 percent produces an apparent temperature of 130 degrees F. This is in the extreme danger range. And, according to NASA Report CR-1205-1 on heat stress, an in-plant temperature of 95 degrees F results in a 45-percent loss in work output, and a 700 percent loss in accuracy!
Technicians and management alike should use these guidelines to determine what steps must be taken. As temperature and humidity go up, expect safety risks to increase and productivity levels to go way down.

Cause for Concern Condition/ Symptoms First Aid

Heat Rash – Heat tolerance affected as a result of reduced ability to sweat.

Heat Cramps – Intermittent spasms of abdominal or other voluntary muscles.

Heat Exhaustion – Rapid pulse, weakness, profuse sweating, dizziness, nausea, headache, cool and clammy skin.

Heat Stroke – Diminished or no sweating, 106-degree or higher temperature, delirium, convulsions. Potentially fatal.

Cleanse and dry area. Apply calamine or soothing lotion for pain relief.

Rest. Drink water or electrolyte drink.

Rest in shade or cool place. Drink water or electrolyte drink.

Douse the victim with cool water, and seek medical attention immediately.

Make a plan
In addition to identifying high-risk conditions, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides some steps to lessen the impact of the heat, including; adapting work schedules between peak hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; training programs to educate workers; personal protective equipment; a heat monitoring program; cool downs in break room or rest area; and getting acclimated to conditions. Acclimatization, or gradually allowing the body to adjust to work in heat, will result in workers having lower heart rates, lower body temperatures and higher sweat rates of a more diluted sweat, cutting the loss of essential minerals.
Some workers will react better to the heat and adjust more quickly than others. Being in good shape allows you to tolerate higher work rates than people not so fit, like our tomato-skinned co-worker closing in on a full-scale meltdown. It’s also important to note that prior heat injury predisposes an individual to additional injury, so those with a history of problems should use extra caution.
OSHA also provides some questions to ask about your workplace:
• Is a ventilation system in place and operating?
• Is there air conditioning in place and operating?
• Are fans provided/installed?
• Are there shields or insulation between heat sources and employees?
• Are the reflective faces of those shields clean?
Take a look around you and determine whether or not you think the job can be done safely in the given environment.

An ounce of prevention
Every physiological function of the body revolves around water. Organs do not function properly without it. Even chronic mild dehydration (a state that statistics show most of us to be in), over time, may lead to increased risk of colon, breast, and urinary tract cancer; kidney stones; constipation; and medication complications.
In order to maintain enough blood and other fluids, the human body needs approximately 64 ounces of water per day for adequate hydration. That amount should increase at work because we’re constantly losing water through sweat, breathing, and urination. These processes are accelerated in hot weather and prolonged strenuous activity. Therefore, as a basic guideline drink a minimum of 6 to 8 glasses of water a day in normal activity, and replace every pound of body weight lost through sweating with 16 ounces of water.
Some signs that you are already dehydrated might include dry nose and mouth, darkly-colored urine, irritability, fatigue, headaches and loss of balance. Perhaps most dangerous for the aircraft technician is that dehydration can lead to poor decision-making, which doesn’t bode well for workplace safety.
So what do you drink to avoid all this? Beverages with lots of sugar and caffeine in them do not help and actually exacerbate the problem. Water may be mixed with some type of flavoring or sweetener and still be effective, as long as the sugar content remains under 7 percent.
A common question is whether or not sports drinks are more effective than water. While they are helpful for sustained periods of strenuous exercise because they can replace lost electrolytes, they aren’t always necessary with work. Water does the trick, and preferably cold water because it quickly empties from the stomach and enters the blood stream. Remember that the ultimate goal is prevention, not treatment. Drink before you feel thirsty.

Valuable resources Using the right protective equipment will boost endurance, allow you to stay on the job longer and increase overall comfort and safety. A list of the various available methods for keeping cool: Water-cooled items use battery-power to pump water through a network of passages. These systems generally function by cooling water through exposing it to ice or gel contained in a portable pack. Air-cooled systems circulate cool air around the body and evaporate perspiration. Can be incorporated into protective clothing or worn over the body. Industrial cooling fans also function on the evaporative cooling principle. Advanced Radiant Systems CoolSpace® Division of Fishers, IN, offers a portable 36-inch model cooling fan that utilizes high-efficiency, 8-inch thick cooling pads to circulate cool air.
Ice or gel packs contained within a garment are another alternative, but many cause frostbite or skin damage if not shielded by layers of thermal wear. One new alternative is the CoolSport© cooling vest pictured at left, which features a semi-solid, thermal energy storage material designed to absorb heat generated from the body and CoolPacks© that recharge with ice water in 20 minutes. The vest can also be worn directly against the skin. Evaporative cooling functions on the same principle as the body's natural mechanism for reducing core temperature, which is sweating. Workers wear water-absorbing materials like terry cloth, cotton, or other garments that contain water-absorbing polymers. Clothing is soaked in water, cooling the wearer as it evaporates. This method has less long-term effectiveness, since it only works until clothing dries. Portable water packs like those offered by Camelbak Products of Petaluma, CA, are available in various sizes. Water packs eliminate the inconvenience of repeat trips to the drinking fountain while freeing up your hands for maximum efficiency.

Serious business
Heat stress can have adverse effects not only on your health, but on the safety and well-being of those who fly in the aircraft you service. Take responsibility for protecting your health, discuss the issue with management, and sound the alarm if you feel your work environment is unsafe. Guidance in developing a preventive heat stress management plan is contained in the OSHA Technical Manual available at www.osha.gov.
Your job is hard enough without trying to read that boroscope through an eyeball full of sweat. Keep cool, and be smart about how you deal with the dog days, because it will improve production and could possibly save the life of a passenger, a co-worker, or even your own.

The Source
Additional resources...
American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH)

Camelbak Products®, Inc.


Dresser Safety Management

NASA Report CR-1205-1 courtesy of

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Southeast Michigan Coalition on Occupational Safety and Health