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Work Rest Cycle
Don Worthington, Fitness Center assistant, raises a yellow heat index flag July 20 to indicate the heat conditions at that time. The yellow flag represents a recommendation of a 40/20 minutes work/rest cycle for moderate work, and a 30/30 work/rest cycle for hard work. U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp
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Cycling work, rest vital to health when temperatures climb

Posted 7/23/2009   Updated 7/23/2009 Email story   Print story


by Wayne Crenshaw

7/23/2009 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- In front of the Fitness Center, there is a flag that could save a life.

It's the flag that signifies the current heat condition, and along with the color comes recommendations for rest periods and water intake to prevent heat exhaustion.

For those who aren't around the Fitness Center, the flag condition is regularly updated on the main Robins Web site at

The Web page gives detailed information about what each flag condition signifies and the work/rest cycles that should be used to avoid becoming overheated.

White flag is the lowest, posted at a wet bulb globe temperature of 78-81.9 degrees. The wet bulb globe temperature is a composite used to estimate the combined effect of temperature, humidity, wind speed and solar radiation.

The highest caution is a black flag, which is posted at WBGT of 90 degrees or higher. A black flag carries a recommendation that for hard work, 10 minutes of work should be followed by 50 minutes of rest, with a water intake of one quart.

Examples of hard work include hiking on steep terrain or with a heavy load, or intense fitness drills. 1st Lt. Michael Webber, a bioenvironmental engineer in the Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight, said the guidelines for the flag conditions are suggestions.

"Whatever the flags are, the most important thing is to use common sense and drink plenty of water," he said.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, cramps, dizziness and weakness. But people should not wait for those symptoms before taking a rest, he said.

"If you are starting to feel a little something, just stop and rest for 10 minutes," he said.

Although July has been unusually pleasant for Georgia, June was brutally hot and humid, and the heat can be expected to return to full force in August.

Paul Kelley, 78th Civil Engineer Squadron chief of operations, said his unit has about 200 people who work outside. Heat exhaustion is a significant safety concern, he said.

"We stress all the time about keeping hydrated," he said. "We pay attention to the flag system. We emphasize to our people to watch out for one another."

He said June was the hottest month at Robins since 1998, but there were no significant problems from his work crew with heat exhaustion. The 78th CES handles a variety of maintenance operations around base, employing heavy equipment operators, roofers, carpenters, electricians and others.

Mr. Kelley said air conditioning repair people, ironically, have some of hottest jobs because they are typically working on roofs. Paving work is also an especially hot job, he said.

Rick Clark, a mason in the 78th CES, knows a little something about getting overheated. He was once taken to the hospital after participating in a flightline competition. Co-workers feared he was suffering a heat stroke.

He turned out to be OK, but the experience has made him more aware of the dangers about working outdoors. During the summer, the crew has changed its working hours. They used to start at 7:30 a.m. and end their day at 4:30 p.m., but now they start at 6:30 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.

"We also make sure we have plenty of water on hand," he said. "If we get too hot, we sit in the truck to cool down."

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