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DOT workers pave the way in the heat
Summertime work sizzles for road crews as asphalt can reach 300 degrees
Michael Cross wears a new type of perforated hat that the Georgia DOT employees are using on job sites during the hot summer months. - photo by Tom Reed

OAKWOOD — Think you’re burning up just walking from the air-conditioned office to your car?

Try spreading 300-degree asphalt across a new road. That’s heat redefined.

It’s a way of life for road builders, and fast-growing Hall County has seen plenty of those in recent years, particularly as part of the Georgia Department of Transportation’s $75 million reconstruction of Exit 16 at Interstate 985.

Workers have battled temperatures in the 90s, with humidity that makes the air feel more like 100 degrees.

And summer just got started Sunday.

The heat "has a pretty big impact on us," said Toby Hammonds, DOT project manager. "We typically try to get out of the heat and the sun for a few minutes every hour."

"Sunscreen, lots and lots of water, cotton clothing and shade when you can," he said. "When we’re trying to pave, we have two or three guys out there so we can rotate out."

Workers must wear fluorescent vests, which let passing motorists know they are on a work site, that are made of thin mesh so that they’re cool enough to wear.

Hats, sunglasses and cotton, short-sleeve shirts help round off the attire. Workers must wear heavy pants, however, such as jeans, to protect their legs.

"We’re wearing light colors, usually," said Michael Cross, a construction inspector, "and try to stay up under our hats. And we drink plenty of water."

"We go and fill up, and quite a bit," Hammonds added.

Many workers, such as maintenance crews, don’t get the chance to go into a cooled-down office to grab bottled water.

"They keep coolers and water in their trucks and try to take a break about every hour," DOT spokeswoman Teri Pope said.

Spreading asphalt is one of a road crew’s hottest chores.

"You’ve got to drink a heckuva lot more water, because it will just drain you," Hammonds said.

Another summertime issue crews have to deal with is thunderstorms. Steamy can turn to stormy without much notice.

"We tend to be amateur meteorologists," Hammonds said. "... We have to take account of the weather in planning the work. We don’t want to open up the ground if a big storm is coming."

"Rain is the most prolific thing we have to deal with," Pope said, "but during the summer you do have to watch for the pop-up thunderstorms, the electrical storms and the wind.

"You don’t want to be working with something like a concrete pumper truck that goes high in the air and you’re working on a bridge that’s 40 feet in the air."

In the depths of summer, the heat can be unbearable. Work schedules can be adjusted, such as squeezing in work before the sun comes up, Hammonds said.

He added that both the DOT and the project’s contractor hold weekly safety meetings.

"If you talk about the obvious all the time, then it doesn’t escape us. We’re adults, but we always tell each other to drink lots of water and don’t get too much (sun) exposure.

"We always have that level of awareness."

Despite the sweltering weather, for many crew members, the work does provide one major benefit: working outdoors instead of cooped up in an office.

"Being an outdoor lover, I enjoy the work that I do out here," Cross said.

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