These 4 workers have hot jobs. Literally. Here's how they're faring during a heat wave

·6 min read
We asked these four Calgary workers how they're coping in such hot temperatures. From left to right: Chris Green, a bladesmith; Terry Van Riesen, a roofer; Brynn Burdett, a cake decorator; and Ali Bayrouti, a party performer. (Melanie Orr Photography, Tim Adams, Glamorgan Bakery, Mascot Parties - image credit)
We asked these four Calgary workers how they're coping in such hot temperatures. From left to right: Chris Green, a bladesmith; Terry Van Riesen, a roofer; Brynn Burdett, a cake decorator; and Ali Bayrouti, a party performer. (Melanie Orr Photography, Tim Adams, Glamorgan Bakery, Mascot Parties - image credit)

Earlier this week, when Chris Green walked into his Inglewood workshop, in a garage with no air conditioning, it was already a toasty 30 C, he says.

Green is a bladesmith — a blacksmith who makes custom knives — and he spends his days in front of a forge hot enough to bend steel.

As an experiment, he placed an oven thermometer within an arm span of his propane torch. Soon enough, he says, it showed a reading of about 135 C.

"Yeah, I'm sweating," said Green, the owner of Black Cat Metal, in a Calgary Eyeopener interview.

"It's like being in an oven.… I'm continuously surrounded by stinking hot things."

The hot workshop has become a part of Green's everyday routine. But as the city and many surrounding areas remain under a days-long heat warning, he admits he does find himself shutting down early sometimes.

"I have to stop. It's just too dang hot. It runs the risk of heat stroke and dehydration and things like that."

Melanie Orr Photography
Melanie Orr Photography

The heat wave smothering southern Alberta is causing many workplaces to take extra precautions. The UCP government put out a release last week reminding employees to be safe in the heat while asking employers to watch for signs of heat stress among their crews — symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and muscle cramps.

The persistent heat felt in Calgary this summer is surprising to David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

"I think this has been the sort of exceptional kind of aspect of this summer where once it began, it has stayed the course," he said.

Although temperatures haven't broken records, it's remained consistently hot since mid-July. Calgary typically sees four or five days over 30 C each year, but the city has recorded nine days over 30 C in the past few weeks, with more seemingly on the way. Average daytime highs should be about 23 C this time of year.

David Bell/CBC
David Bell/CBC

When it comes to hot work conditions, Phillips says it's also important to keep in mind how the temperature is recorded.

"We measure temperature in the shade … otherwise, every time the sun comes out, the temperature would go up and down like a yo-yo," Phillips said.

"So instead of 30 degrees, it would be more like in the sun, 38, 39 degrees. So it's pretty oppressive."

Adapting to hot work conditions is key, as the city can expect to see more of these kinds of events in future, according to CBC meteorologist Christy Climenhaga.

"What we're seeing with climate change is on average — of course there are outlier years but — warmer winters and hotter summers, and heat waves are expected to increase in both frequency and severity," she said in an interview on The Homestretch.

Working a hot job

Terry Van Riesen and his crew typically have no refuge from the sweltering sunshine. He is a supervisor with Ebenezer Roofing, and he estimates the asphalt shingles contribute at least another 20 degrees to their working conditions.

He says his crew of five is continuously covered in sweat, dripping into their eyes and shoes. But one of the worst things about the hot weather is what it does to metal.

"If the sun's shining on them, they get hot enough to burn your hand, for sure," he said.

"I just find taking lots of breaks and going and visiting the hose on the side of the house as often as you need is kind of the technique we use."

They also often receive cold water from kind homeowners. Still, heat-related illnesses can happen. Van Riesen says one crew members did have to take some time off recently after he started to show symptoms.

Tim Adams
Tim Adams

The team tries to start as early as they can, but when it's above 30 C and there's no wind or clouds in the sky, they do shut down early. It's not ideal, as they have a packed schedule in the summer months.

"This August has been a bit of a scorcher, that's for sure," Van Riesen said.

Ali Bayrouti spends his days outside, too, travelling the city to perform at events and birthday parties. He works with Mascot Parties, and lately, he has taken on the roles of Spider-Man and Captain America.

To become each character, he has to don layers of spandex, latex and vinyl. Each costume also involves a tight layer of material around his face.

"It's insulating the heat and you're trying to move and be active. Like for a majority of our parties, we do super-hero training where we actually engage with the kids and teach them punches, kicks, stuff of that nature," he said.

"You don't want to step out of character ... because super heroes don't take water breaks, right?"

Submitted by Ali Bayrouti
Submitted by Ali Bayrouti

Bayrouti knows it's necessary to take care of himself, though, so he tries to work his non-superhuman needs into his act.

For example, if he's at a birthday party with some trees around, he'll gather the kids and say: "'I have a secret mission for you guys. I need us to find the darkest area,' and then they'll see an area of shade and they'll all run to it," he said.

Even those working indoors are contending with the high temperatures, including Brynn Burdett.

She's the lead cake decorator at Glamorgan Bakery, and although they do have air conditioning, it doesn't effectively reach the back of the building where she works.

The bakery has multiple ovens blasting for hours, pumping out breads, buns and cupcakes. She says she's mostly adjusted to working in a hot space, but the added warm weather can sometimes make it more challenging.

"Sometimes our buttercream is very soupy and we struggle to have nice edges because it's so melted and hot. With that, we'll just have to try to cool the cakes down quite a bit."

As for her own temperature, she tries to manage the heat by packing lots of ice-cold water.

Glamorgan Bakery
Glamorgan Bakery

Beating the heat

If you're dealing with a hot workplace, the city recommends keeping lots of cool drinks nearby, wearing sunscreen and taking regular breaks.

A number of other tips can be found on the city's website, along with a list of cooling stations and community pools.

Workers should also monitor themselves and others for signs of heat stroke, which requires immediate medical attention. If you believe a work situation is unsafe, report it to your employer.

Residents are also being reminded to check in on vulnerable family members and friends, like seniors, those with health complications and those experiencing homelessness, who may find the heat spell more difficult to manage.

In Bayrouti's case, he monitors his wellbeing in the sun, but he also wants to make the most of the summer.

He generally enjoys the heat and says his focus is on making sure his audience is entertained. Besides, in his line of work, he says he'd take the heat over the cold any day.

"Spider-Man is hot in the summer," he said. "But I don't know if you've ever worn a spandex costume in –20 C in a field."