SIOUX CITY | Stacked piles of construction supplies under a shaded area made for a great impromptu break room for a roofing crew from Premier Systems Inc. on a scorching afternoon in Sioux City.
To passersby, it would appear like the men were slacking off. However, they were following their supervisors' orders to avoid overexertion as Siouxland deals with a severe heat wave.
“We have a job hazard analysis form and a safety meeting every morning with the guys,” said Chad Krastel, a production/safety manager for Premier’s Sioux City office.
Before each shift begins, Krastel said a Premier project manager arrives at a job site and explains the importance of working at a slower pace, taking frequent breaks and hydration — the company provides each worker a quart of water every hour.
“We also lessen their workload,” he said. “In the spring and in the fall, they can do multiple jobs in a day, whereas something like this we would typically give them one job a day unless it’s really small and then maybe two or something like that.
“We just try not to overwork them and make sure they stay hydrated. We provide them water, different things sometimes — we’ll come out and bring Gatorades and different things like that.”
With temperatures soaring into the 90s and the heat index hitting triple-digits in some parts of Siouxland this week, finding ways to stay cool remains a challenge for laborers exposed to the elements.
“I’m not enjoying it,” said Emily McNaughton, a landscaper for City Farmers Ground Maintenance, a local commercial and residential landscaping firm.
On Monday, McNaughton and her team started their day in Dakota Dunes and by the time they reached Mercy Medical Center’s campus in downtown Sioux City in the late afternoon they had already made a dozen stops and developed a solid strategy on how to cool down.
“We have air conditioning in the truck so that’s pretty easy, but, just pretty much cold water and cool rags and stuff if we get too overheated or find a good shade spot,” she said.
McNaughton said one thing that helps is the drive time between stops, which she noted provides an opportunity to recharge and offers temporary shelter from the heat.
A few blocks away on the corner of 14th and Jackson streets, a four-man team from Outlaw Concrete toiled away under the sun to install a new a sidewalk at the intersection.
Randy Vaughn, a concrete setter for Outlaw, said they are working 12-hour days and collectively go through about five gallons of water a shift.
“We usually try to take a 15-minute break every two hours,” he said.
Besides rest and water, Vaughn said he takes over-the-counter potassium pills daily. He’s experienced signs of heat sickness before, so he tries his best to avoid it while on the job.
“When you don’t drink enough water and then you’re kind of working and you don’t have time to stop, you start getting dizzy, you know, and you can actually feel the heat pretty good,” he said.
At the Sioux City Foundry Co., which has plants in Sioux City and South Sioux City, safety director Val Corbin said guidelines in the Occupational Health and Safety Administration mobile app are key to production facilities heat safety strategies.
“It’s hot out there; we know it’s hot out there especially over in South Sioux with the furnaces,” she said.
Corbin said the OSHA app provides the day’s heat index and it dictates how often workers should hydrate and take breaks and details how companies should respond to a heat-related emergency situation.
Furthermore, Corbin said she and department heads will determine if a shift needs to be adjusted to start earlier due to heat. They train employees to look for signs of heat stroke among their co-workers and workers are provided fans.
“It’s never going to be comfortable, but we definitely want to take away chances of heat stroke and we’re definitely on top of the issues caused by heat,” she said.
Krastel, the production/safety manager from Premier, said sometimes he or his project managers have to convince employees, who are paid based on how much work they do rather than an hourly sum, to work less.
“They are obviously paid very well, but we want to make sure they are safe too,” he said.
“Guys will say, ‘I want more work,’ but we’ll have to slow them down. It’s not always what they want; sometimes you have to think of their best interest.”