8 Summer Heat Safety Tips for Working on Set
Those of us working outdoors on set neglect heat safety at our peril. We often find ourselves working outside on some of the hottest days of the year. We need to be fully prepared to protect ourselves from the worst effects of heat exposure.
This includes acclimatization, slowly adapting ourselves physically to the changes from the heat before we ever get to set. It also includes knowing in advance that the production company we’re working for is not an ultra-low-budget company unprepared for the heat conditions.
The U.S. Department of Labor issued the first Heat Hazard Alert in 2023 to remind employers of federal regulations to protect workers. You can download the OSHA NIOSH Heat Safety Tool app from the Department of Labor website to check the heat index when you're working outside.
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Here are eight summer heat safety tips we need to keep in mind for working on set:
1. Drink enough water before, during, and after you get to set.
Dehydration can affect our health and even our moods. We can experience headaches, mood shifts, and an inability to concentrate when we're dehydrated, so it's crucial that we stay hydrated throughout the day, especially when we're working outside in the heat.
I always bring my own water bottle to work, as craft service usually isn’t set up first thing in the morning and I don't want to start getting dehydrated before the day even begins. I also consume little or no caffeine when working outside, as caffeine, alcohol, and sugary drinks are dehydrating in the heat.
We need to stay hydrated all the time in summer, not just when we’re on set. We can’t make up for inadequate hydration by trying to drink more water only when working outside. We prepare for working outside by drinking enough water before we get there.
According to OSHA, if workers work in the heat for longer than two hours, drinks with electrolytes should be provided. Water alone can’t replace the electrolytes we lose, and severe health problems can result.
Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink when working in the heat.
We can avoid single-use plastic water bottles that rarely get recycled on set and bring our own. Here are some choices that will help protect the environment and keep water cool for hours:
This stainless steel water bottle by Parnoo is triple-wall vacuum insulated with an airtight screw-on lid. The sweat-proof outer layer stays dry in your bag, which is always a plus.
$15.50 on Amazon Buy Now
This water bottle by Elvira comes with straw and spout lids and will keep water cold for 24 hours. It comes with 2 lids, 2 straws, and a straw cleaning brush. Great for long days on set and there's a wide selection of colors.
$22.99 on Amazon Buy Now
2. Arrive on set prepared for the heat.
Wear a hat with a brim, sunglasses, and loose, lightweight clothing.
I prefer as little exposed skin as possible in the heat, so I wear long pants and often long sleeves. In years past, we used to dip bandanas in a bucket of Sea Breeze and ice water and put them around our necks to cool off.
That’s not considered sanitary today, but it sure felt refreshing on hot days.
Here are a few helpful products for working outside in the heat:
This shirt is ideal for working outside in the heat. The cotton linen natural fiber blend keeps you cool while your arms stay protected from the sun.
$19.99 on Amazon Buy Now
Here's a version of a cotton-linen blend long sleeve shirt for men:
$22.98 on Amazon Buy Now
We shouldn't even think of working outside in the sun without a hat. Here's one to consider:
This wide brim unisex sunhat is water repellent and has UV protection, a drawstring, and mesh panels. It can be easily folded in half so it can fit in your set bag. Comes in multiple colors.
$17.99 on Amazon Buy Now
Of course, sunglasses are a must for filming outside in sun.
I learned the hard way that cheap, flimsy sunglasses are no bargain when they strain your eyes and their poorly made frames come apart after a few wearings. Now I swear by Ray-Bans.
Ray-Ban has a wide selection of quality sunglasses, but you can't beat the classic Wayfarer style. They have UV protection coated lenses and a variety of frames and lenses to choose from.
$171.00 as pictured on Amazon Buy Now
3. Use sunscreen.
Craft service often provides sunscreen, but I always carry my own. That way, I have it on me at all times and can add more as needed.
Melanoma affects people of all skin tones, so we should all use sunscreen outside, not just the fair-skinned.
Make it one of the necessities you bring to set every day.
Throw a travel-size sunscreen in your set bag or fanny pack so you can reapply it as needed.
This sunscreen is water-resistant and has broad UVA and UVB protection. SPF 30. Four one-ounce tubes.
$6.90 on Amazon Buy Now
This lightweight sunscreen facial mist is a great solution for reapplying sunscreen to your face throughout the day when you're working outdoors. According to my sources, it's a makeup artist favorite, too. 3.4 ounces.
$20.00 on Amazon Buy Now
4. Take breaks in a shaded area.
Our industry isn’t big on taking breaks, but we need them when working outside in the heat. Short rest periods out of the heat are essential for our health and safety.
The actors, the director, and the producers usually have a pop-up tent with chairs to cool off under. The rest of us often have to find places to get out of the heat.
Anyone who tells you that you can’t take a break in the heat is compromising your health. I always ignore them and take a break anyway.
Here's a handy collapsible stool to bring to set so you can take a break for a few minutes:
This cleverly designed stool is made of heavy-duty environmentally friendly plastic and can accommodate a maximum load of 265 pounds. It comes with its own carrying case. This stool is perfect to have on set, because there's never an apple box around to sit on when you need one.
$21.99 on Amazon Buy Now
A small portable fan can cool you down on the hottest days:
This small rechargeable fan also contains a flashlight and can provide up to 21 hours of cooling on a single charge. Keep one in your set bag for a quick cooldown.
$19.99 on Amazon Buy Now
5. Use the buddy system on set.
We need to cover each other on set so we can take breaks. We should also be watching for signs of heat intolerance in ourselves and others in our departments.
We often don’t realize when we’re starting to suffer from the heat. Sometimes others notice it before we do.
The buddy system isn’t used enough on set. It would improve all our health if it were used more.
6. If you feel light-headed from the heat, get to a cool place immediately.
If you’re feeling faint, you've been in the heat too long and are probably not adequately hydrated.
Heat-related illness occurs when the body can’t lose enough heat to compensate for the heat generated by the environment and physical work. Symptoms of heat stress include sweating, confusion, dizziness, and hallucinations. It’s severe, and you should see the set medic immediately.
We should avoid heat-related illness by taking breaks, staying hydrated, and coming to work prepared.
7. Be aware of the heat index.
The heat index is a value that takes both heat and humidity into account. It indicates how hot the weather feels and is a better indicator than temperature alone.
You may have seen the reports of athletes passing out and withdrawing from events at the Tokyo Olympics because of the heat index.
The temperatures in Tokyo were not all that high, but the humidity was exceptionally high, making for an extremely high heat index. Even extremely well-trained athletes couldn’t cope.
If superbly trained athletes falter in high heat index weather, imagine what it can do to the rest of us. High humidity makes it difficult, if not impossible, for our bodies to cool themselves off by sweating.
Check the heat index when working outside, not just the temperature.
8. Know who you’re working for.
If you’re a non-union independent contractor on set, you need to be careful about the companies to which you provide your services. They can range from excellent to abysmal in terms of safety, as we’ve all seen during the pandemic.
There are also reports of jobs with no actual production company or ad agency involved. Obviously, this is not an ideal health and safety scenario, as the people involved may know little about film production or safety.
As freelancers working for multiple companies in numerous locations, we can’t rely on an individual employer to keep us safe on set in the heat.
If we’re working for a professionally run production company, water, shade, and a medic will be present on set. In my opinion, those are the only companies worth working for, and even then, we still have to ensure our own heat safety.
Take appropriate precautions and only work for the pros. Doing otherwise can pose a threat to your health, safety, or even your life.