This week’s Summer Spike focus is on hydration, wellness, and heat-related illness. These are certainly things we think about at work, and I hope we also thought about those things last weekend during the holiday! Many of you probably spent time at the lake over the holiday weekend, but this week I’d like to introduce you to some of our team members who “go to the lake” every workday!

Our Guntersville Terminal, is located on Lake Guntersville in Alabama. While it is a recreational lake, it’s also part of the Tennessee Valley Authority Navigation System, which allows barge traffic from Kentucky all the way down to Mobile Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. Guntersville primarily handles iron ore that comes in by dry bulk barge from all over the world, bound for Customers all over the Southeast U.S. It also handles caustic liquid, which comes in on liquid barges and is transloaded to tanker trucks right on the banks of one of Alabama’s best lakes.

Alabama is no stranger to summer heat and humidity, and the commodities handled require PPE that can become rather uncomfortably warm when unloading barges, I spent time with them to see how they keep the Summer Spike pounded down. One of the first things pointed out when I visited this location was their injury-free counter board. The team at WTPS Guntersville is rightly proud of their record.

They’ve made it 3,620 days without a recordable injury (that’s just shy of 10 years, and they are looking forward to reaching that anniversary) is impressive. It’s also been 7,947 days without a lost-time injury. Folks, that’s over 21 and a half years of constant operations without a single lost time event. That’s impressive, and the team was quick to say the long time they’ve worked together, knowing, looking out for each other is a major contributor to that record. Truly a very impressive accomplishment! Well done!

Since the focus for this week is heat, hydration, and the prevention of heat-related illness and injury. I thought I’d ask the teams how they keep things cool. On the ore docks, Brandon Ryan (L) and Chris Nunnelley (R) are in the heat and humidity on the sunny lake all day It can take up to eight hours to unload an ore barge. That on top of the constant equipment maintenance and other dock activities that keep them out in the sun and heat.

Brandon Ryan and Chris Nunnelley are dock workers at WTPS Guntersville.

They handle the heat and ‘Bama humidity by staying hydrated. Brandon and Chris were quick to mention that their supervisors and site manager, Scott King, frequently make the rounds with water. They’re quick to take popsicle breaks when needed, before the signs of heat illness begin manifesting. Brandon also mentioned they significantly change their eating habits in the summer; eating lighter meals with light snacking instead of the heavier meals common in the winter.

Over on the liquids dock, Mark Maddox (L) and Jacob Roll (R) work in similar conditions, but have another added factor. They must wear heavy chemical resistant PPE to safely handle the caustic materials they transload from barges to shoreside tanks and from tanks to trucks. Mark said that you just have to know your body. Every day isn’t the same, some days you are performing at a higher level than others, and you need to know when you need more water. An extra break or two, or whatever your body is telling you that it needs can prevent heat-related illnesses. Jacob pointed out that it’s often more likely you will notice your teammate starting to suffer long before they even realize it themselves. Knowing each other and knowing what’s normal and what’s not is imperative to keeping each other safe out here.

Mark Maddox and Jacob Roll work the liquids dock at WTPS Guntersville and stay cool in the PPE during the hot summer months.

Also, while sports drinks can be helpful, it’s important to drink much more water than sports drinks. They say they try to work on a 4-1 ratio, when it’s really hot. And when things get too hot? There is always the hose to cool off under!

A lot of our operations are like Guntersville; hot, humid, and with the added burden of PPE that we need to wear to be protected. Staying ahead of the game can prevent a heat-related illness. They’re totally preventable if we do the right things. Look out for each other, know ourselves, come to work prepared, and take care to stay ahead of the heat curve. Summer is just getting started. Please, take care of yourself and each other this summer! Keep focusing on prevention efforts, have a safe week, and stay cool!