Working in the heat: ‘You can’t beat the heat’

TUPELO – Come summer, work gets much tougher for outdoor businesses.
While many people in Northeast Mississippi can escape the summer heat by staying in air-conditioned offices, workers who make their money outside don’t have that option.
They must continue to landscape, roof and mow whether it is 75 degrees or 105 degrees.
Thursday’s temperature hit a high of 96 degrees in Northeast Mississippi, but that didn’t stop Johnny Graham of Pontotoc-based Graham & Anderson Metal Roofing.
“We’re wringing wet right now,” he said. “It’s hot … You can’t beat the heat. There’s no way around it.”
For the past week, the National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory on and off for Northeast Mississippi. The region wasn’t under one Thursday, but the NWS said late Thursday it expected to issue one for today and for the weekend.
In the advisory, the NWS tells people to drink plenty of fluids, stay in an air-conditioned room and stay out of the sun.
For outdoor businesses, it’s not practical advice, but they do the best they can.
Graham and his business partner, Scott Anderson, try to work around the heat. On days when the weather is bearable, they start around 8 a.m. But when the temperature starts climbing, they start at 5 a.m. and quit around 1 p.m.
They also get down off the roof every 30 to 45 minutes to cool down and drink water.
“You can go all day when it’s cool,” Graham said. “In the heat, it takes longer and it drains you. It’s pretty tough.”
Graham said that when it’s too hot, he sometimes has to postpone work on roofs that are too steep for him to climb up and down easily.
Boyd Yarbrough of Ten Oaks Consulting in Tupelo also rearranges his schedule because of the weather. He’s responsible for the maintenance of the Fairpark District in downtown Tupelo, including the popular Frances Purvis Reed Fountain in front of City Hall.
“I’m trying to get started at the crack of dawn to get my eight hours in and get out by 2 p.m.,” he said. “The afternoon heat gets you more than the early heat.”
He also does his more labor-intensive work, such as weed-whacking, earlier in the day.
“I mow afterward,” he said. “Mowing is a little lighter and you get a little bit of a breeze.”
Billy Kizer of Kizer B&M Contracting in Myrtle said he doesn’t change his schedule much because of the heat. He continues to do dirtwork, hauling, sewage work and lot clearing. But he also takes into consideration that his workers are outside in the heat.
“I don’t ask my guys to do something I wouldn’t do myself,” he said. “I’m out sweating myself with this sewer line … When it’s hot, you just have to bear it.”
Eddie Martin, vice president of Philips Garden Center, oversees the landscape installation crews and makes sure his employees have plenty of Gatorade while they build arbors and patios and install landscaping, irrigation and outdoor lighting.
He also tells them to take more breaks and to watch themselves and their coworkers to make sure they aren’t overheating.
“This is what we do,” he said. “We work pretty much year-round. We’ve got to work.”
Yarbrough has been doing outdoor work for 32 years. The trick to coping with the heat, he said, is to drink a lot of water – he drinks two gallons per day during the summer – and work yourself into the long, hot days.
“Get yourself acclimated to it by being out earlier in the season,” he said. “Then when it gets hotter, it’s not nearly as hard on you. If you go out first thing in the middle of the summer, that’s when it kills you.”

Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.

Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal