Heat & Hydration Safety for Movie Crews
IATSE Local 479 Summer Safety Series: with the arrival of Summer people who work outdoors face a number of additional health safety dangers, from weather extremes to risk of disease. This article includes information collected from several agencies.
June of 2018 ranked the 3rd warmest on record for the U.S. according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and on its Weather.gov website the agency describes North American summers as being generally “hot”.
Last July Atlanta experienced 21 days of temperatures in excess of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius degrees), and most of the month saw humidity levels in the 90% range. These temperatures are not unusual – the average July temperature for the city is 89ºF.
While film crews are accustomed to working in a wide range of climates and temperatures (and generally consider themselves aware of the dangers of prolonged exposure to high temperatures) film and television production is a fast-paced occupation and the effort to “get the shot” often takes precedence, meaning that crewmembers may occasionally forget to monitor their own health during periods of high activity.
CSATF Safety Bulletin #35 ‘Safety Considerations for the Prevention of Heat Illness’ addresses the dangers to avoid and the safeguards to take in order to prevent an illness from heat. (PDF)
Most public safety information about heat-related illnesses was not designed specifically for film crews, but much of the information can be adapted to the conditions under which film crews work.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that you “Stay Cool, Stay Hydrated, and Stay Informed” when it comes to periods of high temperature.
As discussed in a previous article, Skin Cancer Prevention For Movie Crews, protecting yourself from prolonged exposure to UV radiation is important for preventing the near-term danger of sunburn and the long-term danger of skin cancer. Yet, temperatures above 85ºF demand cooler clothing to protect against the dangers of heat-related illness. Finding the right balance is key.
Keep it Light & Loose
Light-colored, loose-fitting clothing is especially important during summer months. In direct sunlight white clothing is most effective, as it reflects light away and does not absorb heat like dark colored clothing.
During times when you are not required to be in an area of increased heat you should seek shade and places to cool off, whether it’s an air-conditioned building, a cooling tent, or the shade of a tree.
Make Your Own Shade
“Wear a wide-brimmed hat that shades your face, your ears, and the back of your neck. Baseball caps are good at blocking sunlight from your eyes, but a hat with a continuous brim provides more protection for your entire head and body.” – Skin Cancer Prevention For Movie Crews, IATSE479.ORG
Hydration in the context of this article always implies the consumption of water.
Set Medics may monitor their crew’s safety during periods of extreme heat and remind people to hydrate and to find ways to cool off, but don’t wait for a Medic to come find you and give you a bottle of water. Get your own and some for your fellow crewmembers.
Unless you are under special medical direction (medications, etc) you should be drinking (not sipping) water constantly throughout the day. Do not wait until you are thirsty!
Hydration Starts at Home
Hydrate even when you are not at work. By maintaining your hydration during your off hours you arrive on the job armed to do battle with the heat.
Make Hydration a Habit for You and Your Crew
Perhaps you envy that friend who carries a water bottle around wherever they go, staying constantly hydrated. That person could be you, if you tried. Develop a habit of regular hydration while at work. Add a water bottle pouch to your work belt so you can always have water with you on set. Carry a refillable water bottle with you when you are not at work.
If you have room on your truck consider maintaining a cooler of bottled water for your crew and consider keeping a pack of bottled water in your personal vehicle.
A film crew is a team, and the health of the team depends on the health of each member, so observe the health of your fellow crewmembers. Encourage your fellow crewmembers to stay hydrated. Say something if you believe that a fellow crewmember needs to take a break or be evaluated by the set medic. Be proactive. Pay attention to what you can and cannot tolerate, and be aware that your body is always changing as you age.
It’s important to replenish the various salts (electrolytes) and minerals our bodies lose through perspiration. Electrolytes control the absorption of water into cells and the electrical impulses that drive the cardiovascular system.
While our bodies generally restore electrolytes through our diet, intense exercises like running a marathon or working on an exterior set during temperatures in the high 90s can quickly deplete electrolytes. Drinking a 3:1 mix of water to Gatorade throughout the day is a gentle way of maintaining your body’s electrolytes.
Coca-Cola Isn’t Water
Sodas and sugary drinks can act as diuretics, increasing your output of urine and reducing your body’s level of hydration. It’s okay to have a soda now and then but never substitute soda drinks for water intake.
Alcohol Isn’t Water
Alcoholic beverages are obviously off the menu while at work, but it’s important to note that they also act as diuretics. You lose hydration when you imbibe, so be cautious when consuming alcohol in hot weather.
Risk Factors for Heat Illnesses
There are many factors that can increase your susceptibility to illness from heat. The most obvious environmental risks include:
- Hot air temperature
- High relative humidity
- Physical activity
- Radiant heat from the sun or other source
- Personal protective equipment worn
- Lack of air movement
Just as it’s a bad idea to leave children or pets in a parked car, it’s unhealthy to linger inside a working truck during times of high heat.
Some people have risks that are unique to their medical health, including:
- A history of heat illness
- Insufficient water consumption
- Over/under weight
- Poor level of fitness
- Lack of acclimatization
- Poor medical condition
- Use of prescription and over the counter medications and other drugs
- Consumption of alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks, energy drinks
- Advanced age or young age
- On a low salt diet
Look for the Symptoms of Heat-Related Illnesses
There are a number of health issues related to extended exposure to high temperatures, including Heat Rash, Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke. The latter two can prove fatal if first aid is not rendered in a timely fashion.
There isn’t always a linear progression from heat rash to heat stroke, and thirst alone is not an accurate indication of how your body is reacting to heat. Note the following symptoms to look for when diagnosing heat-related illness:
- Loss of coordination
- Blurry vision
- Poor concentration
- Muscle pain/cramps
- Lack of sweating or excessive sweating
- Altered behavior
If a person’s heart rate is unusually high or they are gasping for breath call for the Medic IMMEDIATELY.
Discerning between heat exhaustion and heat stroke is best left to the experts, but the warning signs should be enough for you to take action on. So whether a person has hot, dry, red skin (heat exhaustion) or cold, pale and clammy skin (heat stroke), they should be see by the medic without a moment’s hesitation.
There are additional safety risks for people who are experiencing heat stroke and trained emergency personnel, so don’t try to force them to drink a lot of water immediately.