By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
NOTE: This is one of a continuing series about how Northeast Mississippians beat the heat.
TUPELO – Even as temperatures climb and the humidity adds another layer of misery, Tyler Still doesn’t mind sweating a little on the job.
As a crew leader for U.S. Lawns, Still heads a three-man team that mows and trims lawns and yards across Northeast Mississippi.
While summer ushers in added work, it also means the crew starts earlier and ends later. And while most people are spared from the baking heat, Still’s team is in the thick of it.
“We try to do as much as we can, but you can only do so much at one time,” Still said. “You know when you need to stop, maybe find a shade tree and get some water.”
The New Albany-based U.S. Lawns franchise is owned by Mike Kirk, who said weekly safety meetings are held to ensure everyone takes care of themselves in the heat.
“Once it gets into the mid-90s, any one- or two-degree change and you can feel the difference,” Kirk said. “But we’ll vary the start times depending on the heat. We’ll start as early as 5:30 in the morning if needed.”
With 28 employees deployed across eight crews, U.S. Lawns has plenty to mow, trim, edge, fertilize, clean and maintain. The company has some 200 customers across the region, the majority of which are commercial properties.
Last Monday, Still’s crew got a little behind when rain fell in Tupelo. That meant working a little harder and faster to catch up.
“We have 15 properties to do every Monday,” Still said. “It gets pretty busy.”
Cole Busby and Devin Brock round out the team.
And none of the three mind the heat. In fact, they prefer the outdoors.
Getting used to it
“It’s different, but I’m used to it,” Busby said. “I used to weld in New Orleans. It got hot, but it wasn’t hot all the time like it is when you’re outside like this. But you get used to it. I’d rather be outside and working in the heat than be stuck inside.”
As the crew leader, Still keeps an eye on his workers not only making sure they’re doing their jobs, but also keeping hydrated. There are no mandatory breaks, but each worker is expected to stop occasionally anyway.
Newer employees are especially encouraged to take breaks.
“You need to know your limits and how to pick up the signs of heat stress or heat stroke, and that’s what we go over in our safety meetings,” Still said. “Everybody handles it differently. You take somebody in his first season doing this and it’s going to take a while to get used to the heat. I grew up on a farm, so I’m used to it. I’ve adjusted to it.”
Brock is in his second year working at U.S. Lawns, and he said he learned an important lesson last year.
“In high school, I played baseball, so I had gotten used to the heat,” he said. “I knew when you quit sweating, that’s a sign of heat stress and so you need to get liquids in you.”
But even warning signs sometimes are ignored or overlooked.
“I’m a diabetic, and last year we were in Oxford,” Brock said. “We’d been there all day and I really hadn’t paid attention and I just passed out.”
Brock’s blood sugar had gotten too low, referred to as hypoglycemia. Symptoms include sweating and dizziness – also signs of heat exhaustion – but in Brock’s case, the intense heat had masked the hypoglycemia.
After that little scare, he takes extra care when working.
But, he said, “I still prefer being outside.”
– Learn the signs and symptoms of heatinduced illnesses and how to respond.
– Train your workforce about heat-induced illnesses.
– Perform the heaviest work during the coolest part of the day.
– Build up tolerance to heat and work slowly. This usually takes about two weeks.
– Use the buddy system.
– Drink plenty of cool water, about a cup every 15 to 20 minutes.
– Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing, such as cotton.
– Take frequent, short breaks in cool, shaded areas to allow the body to cool.
– Avoid eating large meals before working in hot environments.
– Avoid alcohol or beverages with caffeine. These make the body lose water and increase the risk for heat illnesses.
SOURCE: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR