In the summer months, heat stress is a major concern for manufacturers.
"Millions of U.S. workers are exposed to heat in the workplace, and although heat-related illness is preventable, each year thousands of workers are getting sick from their exposure to heat, and… some cases are fatal,” said Stephen Boyd, OSHA’s Deputy Regional Administrator
While 80% of heat-related fatalities occurred in outdoor work environments, 61% of non-fatal heat-related illness cases occurred during or after work in an indoor work environment. (Source)
Whether you work outdoors or indoors, the risks of heat exposure are significant.
In this article I'll explain what heat stress is, its impact on plant employees and how to prevent it.
What Is Heat Stress?
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines heat stress as follows:
"A condition where an individual has elevated core body temperature because of prolonged exposure to hot conditions."
This definition includes both physical and mental factors.
- Physical factors include excessive sweating, dehydration, muscle cramps, and heat fatigue.
- Mental factors include anxiety, agitation, confusion, irritability, sleepiness, and impaired judgment.
Manufacturing facilities have unique characteristics that make them more prone to heat stress than other industries.
For example, manufacturers typically use equipment with high power density. This means they operate at higher temperatures and generate more heat per unit of energy used. Or, they may be located in areas with poor air movement and/or limited access to fresh air. These increase the likelihood of heat stress in manufacturing facilities.
How Heat Stress in Your Manufacturing Facility Impacts Employees – and You
There are several reasons manufacturers should look into the impact of heat stress to its employees. Its negative effects impact everyone.
First, heat stress can cause reduced worker performance. If employees feel too warm while working, they will slow down and become less productive.
That means fewer products produced, which translates into lower revenue for your manufacturing facility. This is confirmed by a study showing "the majority (93%) of those people stressed by heat at their workplace also experienced productivity loss due to heat."
Second, heat stress can cause decreased quality output.
Workers who feel too warm will be slower and less attentive to details. They won't focus enough to perform their jobs properly. Poor quality products mean additional expenses in correcting problems and rework.
Third, heat stress increases the chances of accidents and injuries.
With heat exhaustion and stress, workers will be distracted and less alert. They might forget about safety precautions, or take shortcuts when doing physical labor in a hot environment. They could put themselves and others at greater risk of getting hurt on the job. This can lead to slips, trips, falls, and other types of accidents. These accidents could cause workers being injured - or killed.
Finally, related to #3, increased worker compensation claims and increased health care costs. With heat-related illness, workers will need medical treatment and possibly compensation under workers' comp policies. So besides costing your organization money, all this can add up to higher insurance premiums and higher worker compensation bills.
So what can you do?
Reducing the Risk of Heat Stress in Your Facility
When we consider the number of people who experience heat stress each year, it's easy to see why manufacturing companies should take steps to reduce the risk of heat stress on the factory floor.
The good news is there are many things you can do to help prevent heat-related issues in your facility, especially during hot weather months.
Here are some tips to help you keep your workforce healthy and safe:
- Plan ahead. Before the start of the hot season, conduct training sessions for all supervisors, managers, and workers about heat stress issues. Make sure everyone knows what to look out for and what to do if they experience symptoms of heat stress.
- Post basic heat safety reminders. Provide educational materials such as posters, flyers, and brochures regarding heat stress.
- Ensure proper water intake. Dehydration increases the human body's demand for fluid, making it harder to stay alert and concentrate on tasks. Provide water stations near workers so they can easily drink enough water throughout the day. Or simply where they can wet towels to keep themselves cool.
- Adequate rest breaks. Allow workers to have ample time to cool down, especially when they are doing strenuous activity. Cooling centers where employees can take breaks during hot days are a must in any company's heat safety plan.
- Monitor the weather forecast. Know the expected hot temperatures before the start of the season. Take action immediately if the forecast calls for high temperatures or a heatwave.
- Use shade structures. Shade structures can block direct sunshine and reduce the temperature inside a workspace. They should be placed strategically around the manufacturing facility to maximize their effectiveness.
- Maintain a healthy indoor climate. A healthy indoor climate includes a comfortable air temperature, humidity level, and no stagnant air. You can use ceiling fans to provide additional airflow and for heat dissipation. Make adjustments when necessary.
- Conduct regular inspections to identify "heat spots." Inspect the manufacturing floor regularly to identify potential problems. Check for leaks and cracks in walls, windows, doors, and ceilings where hot air may be seeping in.
- Be prepared for emergencies. Heat-related illnesses can happen quickly. It’s important to have emergency response plans in place. That includes making sure your workers know what to do in case of an incident, and have a plan for calling for medical help if necessary.
Heat stress can cause serious problems for manufacturing facilities. It is very important to ensure the safety of all workers from heat stress related stress-related illnesses. You want to make sure your workers are protected and that your manufacturing facility is a safe working environment to consider these measures.
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