Working in the heat: 'It's not the most fun you could be having'


When it comes to heat and humidity, construction foreman Jeffrey Poff takes what he can get.

"It's not like I love this hot, sticky stuff, but hey, it's been worse and it probably will get worse," Mr. Poff, 39, said yesterday while spreading stone and sand across one lane of U.S. 29 near the Route 100 interchange. "Today's decent. It's hot, but a little better than Friday or Saturday."

Mr. Poff was happy that the mercury rose only to 94 yesterday -- instead of Saturday's 102.

Among outdoor workers in Howard County and the region, his relief doubtless was shared.

Richard Sussan, a foreman with Genstar, a Hunt Valley contractor spreading asphalt along another section of U.S. 29, said, "Friday you could just look across the road and see the heat rising up. Today's a big relief from that."

At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, weather forecaster Bob Melrose said the worst of the heat is over for now, as temperatures are expected to remain in the upper 80s to low 90s through the weekend.

"The last of the oppressive heat is passing us today," he said. "Things will start cooling off for all."

But for construction workers such as Robert Kalski, working still wasn't exactly comfortable. Yesterday he was spreading asphalt along U.S. 29 to make a third westbound lane -- a 400-degree job with the asphalt bubbling at 300 degrees above the air temperature.

"It's not the most fun you could be having . . . spreading this hot and messy stuff," said Mr. Kalski, 23.

For most outdoor workers, this week's 90-degree temperatures mean they still must take extra precautions, such as making sure to drink enough water, taking rest breaks and working at a slower pace.

"We don't stress go, go, go in heat like this," said Michael Johnson, Dayton manager of State Highway Administration crews. "We advise workers to take it easy . . . take breaks when needed, get to the shade and drink plenty of water."

Working along Route 32, near Broken Land Parkway, Willie Dirton, 59, of Baltimore, said he doesn't go far without one of his water bottles -- an 8-ounce plastic soda bottle.

"Sometimes you'll be out here, just sweating a mile a minute and it just gets so hot around the machines, but you just get used to it and keep on going," said Mr. Dirton, wiping his brow and leaning against the roller he operates.

Dr. C. Edwin Becraft, a physician who oversees the SHA's wellness program, said construction workers often become accustomed to heat but can sweat 5 pounds to 8 pounds of water a hour. Fluid losses can become especially dangerous for work- ers operating bulldozers, rollers or asphalt spreaders, all of which radiate heat.

SHA officials are waiting until next week, when cooler weather is expected, to lay asphalt at three locations in the county, they say.

Genstar workers along Route 32 were spreading three miles of a sand and stone mixture yesterday in an attempt to catch up from two weeks of rain in May that delayed their project by nine days. The company hopes to finish the $1.8 million job of widening westbound Route 32 by October. About 30 workers will start Sunday night -- when the temperature is low and traffic is light -- laying asphalt there.

Along U.S. 29, though, there was no nighttime work schedule in the future for Mr. Poff, a foreman with Haverhill Contracting Co. in Baltimore.

A construction worker for 21 years, he said he has spent "many a summer in the blistering sun. Your skin gets tougher, you get crow feet and half moons under your eyes from squinting in the sun all the time. But your skin stops getting sunburn and toughens up after awhile, and you just do it because you have to."

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