How to cope when working in the heat — An asphalt worker explains

Paving season takes place during the hottest summer months in Finland. Working days at asphalting sites are long, and sufficient breaks and fluids as well as proper recovery after work provide a rhythm and energy for the heavy work.

Heating Machine Operator Harri Pöyhönen
Heating Machine Operator Harri Pöyhönen

Hot steam and fumes from the hot road surface rise through the feet and body. During the day, the sun beats down on your neck.

Heat is always present in Heating Machine Operator Harri Pöyhönen’s work. At the asphalt site, Pöyhönen’s job is to operate the heating machine, or the “grill” as it’s known in the business. On an asphalt site, the machinery and people keep moving throughout their entire work shift at approximately 5–7 metres per minute.

“Especially in hot weather, drinking plenty of fluids is important. I drink plain water and mineral waters that include salt. For snacks, I prefer healthy and nutritious foods: tuna, salad and bread,” Pöyhönen explains.

Heat breaks and proper snacks are required

At Pöyhönen’s site, Finnish National Road 2 from Helsinki to Pori, a new layer of ecological and high-quality reclaimed asphalt is created using the REMIX method. The old asphalt surface is heated with three grills, after which it is milled and mixed with new asphalt mass. Finally, the mass is spread out as the new surface layer of the road.

“I try to avoid walking on the hot road surface as much as possible and stay on the roadside,” Pöyhönen explains.

Paving work is done around the clock in Finland, as both day and night shifts, depending on the location. Asphalt workers form one of the occupational groups who are most exposed to heat in their work, and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health has drafted its own recommendations for the group.

“As you sweat, your body loses fluids, which must be replaced by drinking. However, it’s not good to drink too much either. Aim for portions of 1–2 decilitres 3–4 times per hour,” says Finnish Institute of Occupational Health’s Specialist Research Scientist Sirkka Rissanen, who specialises in safety solutions.

Being exposed to heat might put stress on your heart and muscles.

“As the temperature rises, your heart pumps blood to the surface of the skin for cooling, which leads to the blood circulation decreasing in the muscles and weaker performance. However, your body will get used to working in the heat with time: you start to sweat more in a more efficient manner and your heart rate drops,” Rissanen explains.

Occupational safety and listening to your body are most important

YIT utilises the instructions from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health as part of the occupational safety report sent monthly to the management on site.

“Under demanding circumstances, such as heat, the superior’s role is emphasised. The importance of taking breaks increases, and it is necessary to slow down your work pace, where possible. The employer tries to select clothing that is better suited for paving work, such as breathable work trousers, and considers the existing circumstances when choosing protective equipment,” says Tero Liski, Occupational Safety Manager at Paving.

YIT develops the ability of asphalt workers to cope at work by instructing the workers in holistic well-being. The Take Care of Yourself action plan, drafted by YIT Finland’s occupational health care, includes, among other things, information on a healthy diet, exercise and sufficient sleep.

The paving season ends as the weather cools down in October–November. During the winter, Harri Pöyhönen takes his annual holiday and maintains site heating machines in Perniö. After the long winter, he already starts to look forward to working in the summer.

“As the sun starts to warm up in the spring, I often think that it’s about time we hit the road again,” he says with a laugh.

Five tips for working in the heat:

  1. Drink plenty of fluids: 1–2 decilitres 3–4 times per hour. Choose water or mineral water and avoid coffee, which decreases the amount of fluids in the body even further.
  2. Take breaks and try to get out of the heat and find some shade.
  3. Eat healthy and diverse food during your work shift.
  4. Make sure to get enough sleep after your shift and take care of your physical health even during your free time.
  5. Remember that each body functions in its own way. Keep an eye on your energy levels and make a plan on how you can handle the heat.

More information:

Marika Hällsten, Health and Wellbeing Manager, YIT Corporation, tel. +358 40 776 0267,
Mika Ajanko, Developing Manager, YIT Paving, tel. +358 40 060 4799,,
Hanna Malmivaara, Vice President, Communications, YIT Corporation, tel. +358 40 561 6568, 

YIT is the largest Finnish and significant North European construction company. We develop and build apartments and living services, business premises and entire areas. We are also specialised in demanding infrastructure construction and paving. Together with our customers, our nearly 10,000 professionals are creating more functional, attractive and sustainable cities and environments. We work in 11 countries: Finland, Russia, Scandinavia, the Baltic countries, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. The new YIT was born when over 100-year-old YIT Corporation and Lemminkäinen Corporation merged on February 1, 2018. Our pro forma revenue for 2018 was approximately EUR 3.8 billion. YIT Corporation's share is listed on Nasdaq Helsinki Oy.