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Extreme heat, staff shortages forcing some Newton businesses to alter how they work
One Newton County construction company owner estimated the extreme heat cuts at least 30% of what its workers and subcontractors normally could perform in cooler and less humid weather because of the physical strain on workers when the heat index increases. - photo by Metro Creative Services

COVINGTON, Ga. — The recent extreme heat is forcing some Newton County businesses to alter their normal ways of operating as they work to meet heavy demand for their services and deal with staffing shortages.

Officials of companies that provide air conditioning repair and construction services say they are working at capacity to serve their customers despite shorter work hours needed to protect employees working outdoors, staffing shortages that limit how rapidly they can respond to repair issues or completing a project, and well-documented supply chain issues.

The normal high temperatures for mid to late June in Metro Atlanta is about 88 degrees, according to National Weather Service records.

However, temperatures as high as 99 were recorded last week in Newton County and the National Weather Service was calling for highs of 100 degrees Wednesday and Thursday of this week in Newton County and in parts of Metro Atlanta.

Doug McMillian of roofing and construction company DMC Contracting in Covington estimated the extreme heat cuts at least 30% of what its workers and subcontractors normally could perform in cooler and less humid weather because of the physical strain on workers when the heat index increases.

McMillian, whose company has operated since 1989 in Newton County, said when the heat index reaches a certain level he must give his workers a certain amount of break time for water breaks. 

“We go to work at the crack of dawn, as soon as daylight hits, and we have to leave the job a little early — to try to make production it takes a heavy toll on everything,” he said.

“On a spring day, fall day, when the weather’s decent ... you get more production because it ain’t so hard on you,” McMillian said.

The heat index is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature.

McMillian noted high humidity is the main culprit in cutting the amount of work that can be performed when temperatures hit the high 90s.

“When the heat’s like this you have to take breaks,” he said. 

“The outside construction when you’re out in the dead sun is a lot worse,” McMillian said. “But, overall, when you’re working a new construction home, when there’s no air flow or anything like that, it’s not quite as bad but it’s bad.”

However, he said he typically plans for such occurrences during parts of summer and winter.

Covington air conditioning contractor D&W Air Flow is dealing with both staffing shortages and increased calls as the thermometer nears or hits triple digits.

Rita Harper of D&W said the volume of calls began picking up since about June 6 as regular customers prepared for hot weather and customers with emergency equipment problems began calling as temperatures rose to the high 90s.

“It’s increased over what we normally get at this time of year,” she said. “We’re getting lots of calls every day so we’re getting to them as soon as we can.”

Harper said she arrived at work at the family-owned business Monday morning to find 17 voicemails for service — even after it had a technician on call over the weekend to handle emergency requests.

“We’ve been handling a lot of the calls for cooling and giving them priority,” she said. “Our preventive maintenance contracts, those folks have been very understanding, allowing us to move them around as needed.”

Some customers may need a new HVAC unit or parts, which also can lead to delays because of supply chain issues, she said.

“It’s getting difficult to get (equipment and parts) as quickly as we were before, so that’s slowing things down also,” she said.

Harper said the company only has two full-time technician/equipment installation positions filled out of five openings. 

“I think it’s everywhere,” she said, in reference to staffing shortages. “We’ve had a sign out on our marquee and we’ve been trying to find somebody to add.”

The company has been able to use an experienced part-timer to help out at times as it works to fill three more openings, she said. 

“We take what we can get,” Harper said.

McMillian said he also is dealing with staffing shortages but he has generally been able to keep up with what is needed to stay on schedule.

“You can’t get enough help,” he said.