Tech & Work

What's in your work survival kit?

Being a field engineer can have unforeseen drawbacks, not least of which is surviving England's fickle climate. Some of my coping mechanisms are more effective than others.

We are enjoying what passes for summer in the UK at the moment, when temperature and humidity can lead to a whole new range of problems with the equipment and the people who operate it. As anyone who knows the English summer will tell you, it doesn't get all that hot here, 25 Celsius is rated as a tropical heat wave, in the same way that a half inch dusting of snow hits the headlines as a blizzard.


The problem the English encounter is that with the warm weather comes debilitating humidity. It makes us lethargic, sticky, and irritable. At the end of a working day the first thing I do is peel myself out of my work clothes and climb into some light shorts and a t-shirt.

It occurred to me that the weather has a real impact on my ability to work effectively. If I am hot and my shirt is stuck to my back, I feel uncomfortable and it can only be a distraction. Between jobs there is no problem; I can crank up the air con or roll the windows down and enjoy a breeze, but once I get to a call, the problems start.

On Friday afternoon, my last job was in the centre of Bournemouth, where I needed to reset some software in a machine. It was a five-minute job, but as the town is a centre of tourism, finding a place to park on a sunny Friday afternoon can be quite a quest. Thus, I found myself parking a little way out of town, slinging my laptop bag around my shoulders and hiking the last half mile to the customer.

By the time I got there, I was sporting dark patches all over my shirt and I was, to say the least, somewhat unpresentable. The job was soon over and I was on my way home, looking forward to a cool beer and a hot dinner. To many of our customers, our appearance is given higher weighting than our ability to do our jobs, and I do try to make sure that I am as tidy as possible when I turn up, but on this occasion, I was given some very funny looks as I dealt with the problem. All I could do was do the job and get going. I got to thinking about how I could deal with the problem.

Installing a shower in the car is not an option. Some customers have showering facilities and I have a good enough relationship with some of them to go in and ask, but the best option I have found is this: I packed a bag with a clean shirt and some baby wipes. Finding a suitable location, I wipe down and put on the clean shirt. It buys enough time to get through the rest of the day but doubles the amount of washing shirts I have to do.

I am gradually building an in-car survival kit. So far this year I have been forced to deal with being snow bound on a motorway, excessive heat, assisting at a road accident, and helping a farmer drive a herd of cows from the road after a holiday maker left a gate open and the main road through our area came to a standstill. So far my theoretical survival kit comprises: a change of clothes, Wellington boots, first-aid kit, torch, Hexamine stove, mess tins, a supply of tinned food, a blanket, a shovel, and something to read. A 240-volt inverter to allow me to run the laptop and power a decent light has also proved useful, along with a wide selection of CDs and DVDs. The only problem with this is that it leaves very little room for the boot full of tools and spares that are required for my job. I don't want a bigger car as that has serious tax implications for a UK worker.

If you are a mobile worker, what essentials do you carry in your car? What's the worst traveling predicament you've ever gotten yourself into while out in the field?

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