Beat the Heat on the Lines this Summer

Beat the Heat on the Lines this Summer

Summertime brings nice weather, shorts, tank tops and flip flops. But not for everyone: a lot of people must work in the heat. How much stress is put on power lines during this time? Warm weather heats up the conductors on the power line, not to mention the large draw of power due to everyone cranking up their air conditioning to cool off. With the additional amperage going through the lines, more heat is added.

Line workers work in buckets, which reflect the heat and block the wind on most of the body, making the summer heat feel unbearable at times. Their required personal protective equipment (PPE)—fire-retardant (FR) protective clothing, long-sleeved clothing with thick insulating rubber gloves, insulating rubber sleeves and unventilated hard hats—causes them to sweat intensely as they work with electricity. There is so much sweat that the insulating rubber gloves will retain it, as if someone dumped water into them.

What can be done to mitigate this intense heat?

The truck coolers are packed with ice, water and plenty of low-sodium electrolyte drinks for each crew. Good advice is to stay away from tea, coffee or any beverage containing caffeine, which causes dehydration.

Lunches for these elite workers during the summer typically include fresh foods like crisp lettuce with chopped veggies, fruits, egg salad and cheese platters. Foods that have high water content, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, apples, celery, lettuce, watermelon, peaches and zucchini can help to keep dehydration at bay.1 Work rest cycles are needed during this time. We all want to work less in the heat, but everyone needs electricity, and line workers will work to keep the system on.

OSHA suggests three critical elements: water, rest, and shade. Drinking water every 15 minutes, before you feel thirsty, is strongly recommended.  

Line workers are good at taking care of themselves, and onlookers that drive by may wonder if they are getting any work done when they see someone sitting in the shade, FR shirts hanging on mirrors drying out and everyone taking a water break. However – worker safety is paramount: it is crucial that crews have access to cool drinking water all times, permission to take rest when needed and be able to find shade so they can cool off.

Signs of potential distress to look for in the heat

Line workers are trained in first aid and CPR as well. They are their brethren’s keepers and always keep an eye on each other. One thing they are trained to look for during this time of year are signs and symptoms, such as those from the OSHA Quick Card, Protecting Workers from Heat Stress:

Heat Cramps – When you’re dehydrated from pouring sweat and not replenishing all that water loss, you’ll experience muscle spasms.

Remedy: Move to a shady spot, preferably under a tree. Trees release water into the air. Sitting in the shade of a tree can make the temperature feel 10-15 degrees cooler.2 Drink cold water or a sports drink – preferably a lower sodium variety that contains electrolytes – to lower the body temperature. Apply a cold, wet cloth to the back of your neck and forehead.

Heat Exhaustion – When those heat cramps are accompanied by dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache or fainting, you’ve reached the danger zone.

Remedy: Get to a safe area and remove any protective clothing, i.e., vests, gloves, hats and long sleeves. Rest and allow your body to cool-down to below 100 degrees. Seek emergency medical help if these steps don't relieve your symptoms.

Heatstroke – Emergency medical attention is vital, and symptoms of this potentially fatal condition can mimic a stroke: Victims may be confused or disoriented. They may have slurred speech. They either have hot, dry skin or they're pouring sweat with a body temperature climbing as high as 104 degrees. They might suffer seizures or convulsions.

Remedy: Call 911. Move the person to the shade. Apply cold compresses and pour water on the victim's clothing, putting them near a fan if possible. Do not give the heatstroke victim anything to drink as it could cause a choking hazard. Keep the victim calm and relaxed until EMTs arrive.

Remembering those who work in the heat and helping them make sure they can stay cool and continue to work is vital during summer. Line crews look out for one another and work diligently to keep the lights on for us all.

Learn more

This article is part of a series. For more electrical safety tips, read Russ’s previous blogs.

About the Author:  Russ Owen, CUSP, served in the U.S. Military for 21 years, 13 of which were spent in the U.S. Army doing power generation and distribution, and 6 years in power distribution safety. Now he is a senior technical lead at Honeywell Salisbury and serves on ASTM International committees (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials). His experience as a lineman gives him first-hand insight into how to make our products both high-quality and user friendly. 


1 - www.webmd.com/diet

2 - www.epa.gov/heatislands