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Traffic crews watch out for each other while working outside

POSTED: July 8, 2014 1:30 a.m.

This is the second in a series of stories about residents who work outdoors in the sun or indoors without air conditioners during the summer months.

Up in the air on bucket trucks or down on the ground with saws, the City of Gainesville Traffic Operations division makes safety its priority.

The crew ensures red lights, pedestrian poles and other traffic functions are performing properly to keep the public safe. But the tight-knit group also makes personal safety a top concern since the job requires the men to be outside 90 percent of the time. In fact, the only time the crew is not outdoors is when it is driving to a job site.

The crew relies on its senses and each other to notice signs of heat-related illnesses. This alertness prevents problems before they become dangerous, since according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, two of every thousand workers are at risk for heat stress. Some occupations, like construction, agriculture or firefighting, are at an even greater risk.

"We have to watch out for each other," interim superintendent Nick Burnett said. "You can tell when someone is acting differently than they normally do, and you can tell by the color of their skin, when they start to get pale or stop sweating."

The group starts at 7 a.m. to beat the majority of the heat, but every day is different. The crew may have an emergency job to complete or routine maintenance.

"A typical day on the job could be trouble shooting or planned scheduled work, whether it be camera work for the intersections or maintenance," traffic technician Frank DiMizio said. "It changes from minute to minute with traffic."

What doesn’t change in the summer, however, is the heat. And the group takes precautions to stay healthy and hydrated in the sun.

"It gets pretty hot," DiMizio said. "When you’re up inside the bucket, you have no airflow from the waist down, so it can get hot."

If a crew member starts to feel bad, another person will take over so each person gets breaks and a chance to drink water or a sports drink to replenish fluids. Traffic services keeps cool towels and soaked in water for crew members to put on their necks or heads. Sunscreen and plenty of water are also on hand. On especially hot days, the crew leaves the trucks running with air conditioning to cool down between jobs or on breaks.

"We obviously can’t have someone up there who is getting dehydrated, getting weak or dizzy, because they can drop something on a civilian or vehicle," Burnett said. "Safety starts with us and will go on to be safety for the general public."

The small crew has a summer uniform of a department T-shirt and jeans, but add a safety vest, hard hat and harness. The layers add to the temperature.

"That adds to the heat some, especially with the hard hat since so much heat escapes through your head," Burnett said.

The group does its best to not push its members too hard in the summer heat. The traffic service division also tries to head home before the extreme afternoon temperatures arrive, but some situations require prolonged exposure.

"We have to cut loops, which are saw cuts in the ground for vehicle detection, and we have to be out in the road the majority of the day," Burnett said. "That’s probably worst because anytime you’re out on the black top it’s warmer."

DiMizio noted overall, the key to the crew’s safety and health on the hot job is to look out for each other and make sure everyone takes breaks when needed.

"Just try to stay as cool as possible," he said. "We are dealing with electric and the safety of the public, so the more cool you are, the more focused you are and the more efficient you can be at your job."



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