British Columbia

Jennifer Newman: B.C. fires make working outdoors in the smoke a challenge

Workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman offers advice on staying cool with working outside.

Workplace psychologist says it’s up to both employees and employers to ensure everyone remains safe on the job

Smoke carrying across the province from wildfires have caused complications for some outdoor workers. (BC Wildfire Service)

The growing number of fires across B.C. this summer have made conditions across the province potentially treacherous for outdoor workers.

As of Thursday morning, Whistler continued to have the highest air quality health index risk value with a maximum of eight. Parts of Metro Vancouver are expected to have a maximum risk value of five. 

According to workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman, staying cool and safe for those who work outside can be a challenge, and even have potentially dire effects if individuals have respiratory or other health conditions.

Newman spoke with the Early Edition's Rick Cluff about the ways to beat the heat and smoke while on the job.

Who is affected by the heat and now, the smoke, at work?

If you work outdoors or your workplace is in an open-air environment, you've been feeling it for a while. Construction workers, anyone in utilities, agriculture workers, roofers, landscapers, road workers and baggage handlers are all at risk in the heat.

Workers in open air environments like wait staff on patios or auto technicians in garages and folks in warehousing are feeling it too. Even offices without temperature control are susceptible to heat.

How can workers beat the heat?

Drink water as often as you can, even if you're not thirsty. Take breaks and be sure get into the shade.

If you've been off shift for a week or more, it's especially important to be careful as your body will need to acclimatize. Gradually increase your workload and take frequent breaks the first week back.

It's also important to watch what you eat. Meat and other proteins increase body heat and water loss, and be sure to stay away from caffeine and alcohol.

Be aware of symptoms of heat exhaustion so you can nip it in the bud. Rashes, leg cramping, feeling weak, lightheaded or nausea can all be due to heat. Be sure to stick together: keep an eye on your co-workers, remind people to take breaks, drink water and intervene if someone looks unwell.

Workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman says those with health conditions need to take extra precautions when working outdoors in the smoke. (Jennifer Newman )

The air quality seems to be shifting daily. How do workers handle that and the smoke that comes with it?

Workers with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, lung or heart disease, respiratory disease and asthma need to take extra precautions. Stay cool and in air conditioned environments and run an air cleaner and make sure to change filters regularly.

If you work outside and experience any of these conditions, consult with your GP.

What can organizations do to help workers cope as we continue through this summer?

Focus on keeping employees cool and rested and have lots of water on site.

Research shows working long hours in a demanding job can lead to losing a resolve to follow safety guidelines and best practices to stay cool.

If a manager or supervisor values safety, so do workers. Workers are more likely to look after themselves and others, if the supervisor looks after them.

This interview was edited and condensed. To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: Jennifer Newman: How to beat the heat and smoke when working outdoors.