A Guide to Extreme Hot Weather Clothing for Work

A Guide to Extreme Hot Weather Clothing for Work

Environmental factors play an outsized role in an individual’s performance at work. Extreme heat has a physiological effect on the body, which in turn, affects the brain. This can lead to slower reaction times, reduced physical output, slower cognition, and reduced work output. It can also lead to heat-related injuries which can be very dangerous. 

The Quick Answer: The right clothing can help manage extreme heat. Good clothing helps prevent you from becoming overheated in various ways and actively cools you in the case of Qore Performance’s ICEPLATE®. All this helps you continue functioning at a high level.

Read on for a more detailed answer of how hot weather impacts occupational safety, and how you can mitigate these effects through proper clothing choices! 

Understanding Heat-related Illnesses 

The real danger in extreme heat environments is heat-related illnesses. Heat-related illnesses occur when the body absorbs heat more rapidly than it can be dissipated and the heat reaches a critical point. When the body and brain get too hot, they can no longer function properly and medical emergencies can occur. Heat-related injuries include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Heat Rash

Heat rash is a painful skin condition caused by working in high heat, high humidity environments. It is recognizable by painful, red blisters that predominantly occur in the upper chest, groin, and under the breasts. Though irritated and uncomfortable, this is not usually a medical emergency, but a heat rash should be looked after to ensure the blisters don’t open and risk infections like cellulitis

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are characterized by painful muscle spasms. These usually occur when someone is under a heavy workload in a very hot environment. Heat cramps will often resolve spontaneously, but they are a good sign that the victim’s body temperature is climbing dangerously high. The victim should cease physical exertion immediately. Remove the victim from direct sunlight and high humidity, and place them in air conditioning if possible. The victim should rest and hydrate. Water is the best hydration, but a sports drink mixed 50/50 with water can help replace sodium and other electrolytes, as well.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a medical emergency. It is caused by prolonged exposure or heavy workload in hot environments, and inadequate cooling and fluid replacement. Heat exhaustion is recognizable by cool, pale skin and profuse sweating. The victim will appear tired and weak, experience nausea and vomiting, and may be confused. He or she may even faint. This is a serious finding and a more serious heat-related illness can occur if the individual is not removed from the environment and their body temperature is reduced. Seek emergency medical treatment.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most serious heat illness. Heat stroke is caused when the body is no longer cooled through sweating, causing an extremely high core body temperature (generally in excess of 103°). Heat stroke is recognizable by hot, dry skin, altered mental status, weakness, dizziness, a throbbing headache, a weak, thready pulse, and unconsciousness. If left untreated, seizures can be expected, and, ultimately, can result in death. It is imperative to remove the victim from the environment, begin active cooling measures, and seek emergency medical treatment without delay for anyone suffering from heat stroke! 

Clothing Materials & Their Role in Thermal Comfort 

Sweating is the body’s method of controlling its temperature. As sweat collects on the surface of the skin, it begins to evaporate, taking heat with it. The environment plays a role in this. In theory, sweat should evaporate faster and take heat with it when it gets hot outside. However, this does not take into account how much moisture is already in the air. In humid environments, where there is already a lot of moisture in the air, sweat evaporates more slowly. This is one reason that you feel like you sweat way more in humid weather; the body can’t cool itself as efficiently as it can in more temperate environments. On the other hand, in arid and/or windy climates, sweat actually evaporates too quickly. This is why deserts feel so hot.

Choosing Clothing That Promotes Self-Cooling

Our own body is our best source of cooling. However, appropriate clothing helps prevent the absorption of heat and promotes the body’s ability to cool itself. Appropriate clothing should be considered personal protective equipment and should be incorporated into the dress code on construction sites and other job sites that encounter extreme heat. Let’s take a closer look at clothing appropriate for physical exertion in hot weather.

Generally, clothing should be somewhat loose-fitting. This allows airflow and promotes cooling via the evaporation of sweat. Clothing should generally be quick-drying so sweat is not sitting on your skin all day, risking irritating conditions like heat rash. Moisture-wicking materials will help pull sweat away from the skin. Merino wool is one such material – it does a good job of pulling water away from the skin and trapping it in its fibers. Synthetic material can also do a great job of pulling sweat away from the skin.

What Not to Wear: Cotton Kills!

Anyone who has spent appreciable time in the outdoors has heard the adage that “cotton kills.” This is because of cotton’s hydrophilic properties – it likes to hold onto water. In cold weather, this is extremely bad. A cotton t-shirt, wet with sweat, will not dry and can cool you rapidly. The same is true in summer, too; a wet cotton shirt can help to cool the wearer and might not be a terrible choice for physical exertion in hot weather. This is especially true in arid or windy environments where sweat may naturally evaporate way too quickly. 

What to Wear When Working in Extreme Hot Weather

Choosing the appropriate clothing for yourself or establishing a job site dress code can drastically reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses like heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. This can result in increased productivity and greater employee comfort, as well. 

Extreme Hot Weather Clothing for Work: Long Sleeves

Though it may seem counterintuitive, pants and long-sleeved shirts are preferable to shorts and t-shirts in very hot environments. This is because long pants and long sleeves keep more skin out of direct sunlight, which helps avoid absorbing heat through radiation. Outer layers should be lightweight, breathable fabric to avoid trapping heat in and allowing sweat to evaporate. Lighter colors – tan or khaki, for instance – also help reflect heat rather than absorb it, which helps keep you cooler, too. The fabric should also be selected to wick moisture away from the body. Choosing a fabric with an SPF rating can also help prevent sunburn.

Extreme Hot Weather Clothing for Work: Hats

Hats can also have an outsized effect on cooling. A wide-brimmed hat can shade the head and provide some shade for the rest of the body, as well. As with other clothing items, it should be breathable and loose-fitting, and allow heat to escape.

Extreme Hot Weather Clothing for Work: Hydration Packs

Carrying a hydration pack is a huge step toward staying hydrated. Though it may not seem like it in the moment, that drinking tube makes hydration so convenient, wearers tend to stay better hydrated. ICEPLATE® goes a step further by harnessing the thermal power of water. ICEPLATE® Curve is a plate, similar to a body armor plate, that can be filled with water and frozen. It is then worn in a safety vest and cools the body as the water melts (while providing a convenient source of cold water via a drinking tube). This is a truly revolutionary product that cools the body and provides a convenient source of hydration, which promotes hydration compliance – a win-win situation! 

Extreme Hot Weather Clothing for Work: Other Measures You Can Take

There are a number of other measures you can take to prevent heat-related illnesses. Make sunscreen readily available to all employees who are exposed to the environment. Provide a cool, air-conditioned break area. Keep plenty of water at the ready. Water is the best form of hydration, though sports drinks have some utility. Unfortunately, sports drinks contain a lot of sugar and are not optimal for hydration, but can be a useful supplement.

Extreme Hot Weather Clothing for Work: A Summary 

The risks of heat-related illnesses are real. When performing outdoor activities in warmer weather, high humidity, direct sunlight, or other high-heat environments, active measures must be taken to protect yourself. Construction workers and others doing manual labor are at special risk. Heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are serious concerns. They impact productivity and may represent liability if proper occupational safety needs are not met.

A part of those occupational safety needs is a dress code that promotes cooling in extreme heat environments. Appropriate clothing enhances the body’s ability to naturally cool itself through sweating and evaporation and should also protect users from the sun by covering as much skin as possible. Light colors will reduce heat absorption, and clothing should be rated to prevent sunburn.

Man depicted utilizing ICEPLATE revolutionary technology on a construction site.

How Qore Performance Can Help

Qore Performance’s thermoregulation solutions can help keep you safe on the job site by providing revolutionary active cooling. ICEPLATE® Curve plates can be worn in ICEPLATE EXO®-SLK Hi-Viz vest or Class 2 Safety Vest, providing 50 ounces of water and 70 watts of cooling power each.  Don’t wait until a heat-related injury strikes; with summer approaching begin taking necessary precautions now!

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