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Working through a heat wave: How CO.’s outdoor jobs are being affected by the sizzling high temperatures

(adding video, comment from ODOT, Bend Public Works, and roadside construction workers)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- With record-breaking heat beating down on Central Oregonians, its tough to keep cool - especially if you work outside. NewsChannel 21 looked Tuesday into how roadside workers stay safe in triple-digit temperatures.

Stepping out in extreme heat is brutal, especially on 100-degree days. Now imagine having to work in these conditions for eight hours a day.

Redmond did it again Tuesday - reaching a record 107 degrees, smashing the old July 9 record of 98 degrees, set in 1985, the National Weather Service says. Other area cities also saw records fall, as temperatures didn't.

"It's definitely a real challenge," said Brogan Thomasson, part of Street Utility 1 crew with Bend Public Works. "We just go watch after each and every single one of us."

"We like to try and, you know, work hard and push it," said Ryan Fitzgerald, a Street Utility 1 crew member with Bend Public Works. "You've got to be more careful and in heat like this to make sure that, you know, they don't overdo it."

Whether it’s tending to landscape or repairing roads, working in such hot temperatures is tricky. Staying safe in the heat is just as important as getting the job done.

Bend Public Works Division Manager Chuck Swann said, "We provide water for our staff, wide-brimmed hats, neckbands that absorb water and put around your neck, air conditioning vehicles, we have pop-up awnings if necessary, so the staff can find adequate shade. We encourage frequent breaks and a buddy system watching out for each other."

The division manager for Bend Public Works says  crew managers are frequently checking in on their teams providing ice and looking for signs of heat exhaustion.

"You just want to make sure to hydrate and drink not only water but Gatorade," said Fitzgerald.

It’s worth pointing out you don’t see many, if any road workers out in the peak heat of the afternoon. Heavier work is better done in the morning, when its cooler.

Swann said, "Smaller paving jobs and stuff were done in the morning when the weather's cooler, and then alternate work in the afternoon of hauling debris or things like that, or things that are not heavy labor-intensive."

ODOT also adjusts work times to start at 5 a.m. instead of 8 a.m., to reduce direct exposure to the sun.

Bend Division Public Information Officer Kacey Davey said, "We also try to limit the manual labor as much as we can, keep crews in vehicles or equipment that has air conditioning. There's also additional things like that that we do."

ODOT does not expect the change in schedules to impact traffic or the public. But both ODOT and Bend Public Works remind drivers to be cautious in work zones, especially with extreme weather. 

Fitzgerald said, "Just slow down and watch for us as much as we're watching for you guys."

Thomasson said, "We have families, too. you know? We're fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, everything in between. and, you know, please slow down for us."

Bend Public Works tells NewsChannel 21 they provide extensive heat precaution training to all their staff, so they're prepared before going out into the field. Both ODOT and Bend Public Works encourage employees to take breaks when needed, and to report symptoms or signs of heat illness to their supervisor. 

Some significant signs of heat-related issues to look for would be headaches, nausea, confusion, high body temperature and light-headedness.

Article Topic Follows: Weather

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Matthew Draxton

Matthew Draxton is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Matthew here.


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