Use these five tips for workers and five tips for managers to stay cool while working in fabricating and manufacturing shops this summer
By Kaylee Swearingen, Marketing Manager at Mazak Optonics Corp.
As temperatures rise in the summer, so does concern for workers’ safety in manufacturing and fabrication facilities. The combination of the sun’s rays beating on the roof, heat from running machines, combined with work that is physically strenuous, creates a very hot environment for fabricators. Heat stress can affect not only productivity, but it can also result in serious illnesses for workers.
Heat is not something that should be taken lightly. When it is too hot people feel tired, less energetic, it can cause cramps. These high temperatures can also strain the heart and lungs.
OSHA has no regulations specifically addressing indoor temperature and humidity, but in the OSHA Technical Manual, the group does recommend temperature control in the range of 68-76 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity control in the range of 20 percent to 60 percent. Also, The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists stated that workers should not be permitted to work when their deep body temperature exceeds 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees C).
First, let’s figure out what the major heat illnesses are.
Different heat illnesses
There are four major types of heat illnesses which are heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Each illness tends to become a progression to a more serious condition. If the signs are ignored for less harmful heat illnesses, a person could escalate to a more serious condition.
Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is a condition when the skin feels prickly or stings because of overheating. Heat rash develops in hot and humid conditions when blocked pores trap perspiration under the skin and superficial blisters form. Usually heat rash gets better once the skin is cooled down. While heat rash normally clears up on its own, some cases may require medical care.
Heat cramps are painful, involuntary spams in the major muscles that occur in a person who is physically active in high temperatures. Sweating a great deal during exercise or manual labor puts a person at risk for heat cramps. Profuse sweating and loss of fluids and electrolytes often contribute to heat cramps.
Heat exhaustion is a condition when the body sweats heavily paired with a rapid pulse which results in the body overheating and is unable to cool down. This happens when the body is exposed to high temperatures with high humidity, strenuous physical activity, and often dehydration. There are two types of heat exhaustion: water depletion and salt depletion. Water depletion symptoms include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness. Salt depletion signs include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness. It is also common to have cool moist skin, headache, nausea, vomiting, weakness, and dizziness.
The most severe form of heat illness is heat stroke. When the body’s core temperature is greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit and complications involving the nervous system. This is a result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures usually combined with dehydration which leads to overwhelming the body’s heat-regulating system. Heat stroke can cause damage to the brain and other internal organs and in severe cases cause death. Someone who has heat stroke has a very high body temperature, either excessive sweating or red, hot, dry skin. The person may have confusion, faint, or have seizures. This is a life-threatening illness that requires immediate medical attention.
Fortunately, there are many precautions workers and managers can take to ensure fabrication environments and employees are safe during the steamy season. Read about the five tips for employees and five tips for managers to beat the summer heat.
As an employee
- Stay hydrated Dehydration is a major component to heat-related illness. It is important to frequently drink cool liquids that are rich in salts and electrolytes, such as coconut water or sports drinks, in order to replace moisture through sweating. It is also important to drink water to prevent thirst. By the time you feel thirsty you already have lost two cups of your total body water composition. If possible, it is recommended to keep a bottle of water at the workstation to stay hydrated throughout the work shift.
- Eat healthy meals High fat, high carbohydrate, heavy and greasy food can leave the body feeling bloated and nauseous. It is suggested to eat a light meal that will subside hunger but not weigh you down, such as opting for a sandwich instead of a burger. You can also replace fluid and sodium losses with watery foods that contain salt and potassium, such as soup and vegetable juices. Fruits and vegetables are also a great source of water. For more options read this list of 19 hydrating foods.
- Take breaks Breaks help employee productivity through mental well-being and overall work performance. Breaks also help when it is hot. When the body is unable to release enough heat to balance the heat generated by physical work and external sources, the body struggles to cool itself down. Taking a break can prevent one’s body from reaching high temperatures that it cannot cool itself down from.
- Dress appropriately While shorts and sandals are not permitted in a fabrication shop setting, breathable and lightweight materials are safe and recommended to wear while working on a hot shop floor. Cotton, linen and silk fabrics work best for absorbing sweat and allowing the skin to breath.
- Watch for symptoms By knowing the signs and symptoms of heat illness you can better prepare to recognize them in yourself and team members. If you or someone else starts showing symptoms, take him or her to a cool room and get the person rehydrated. It is important to always take these symptoms seriously as it could result in serious illness.
As a Manager
- Educate workers It is essential to ensure that employees know the dangers of heat stress, how to identify symptoms, how to treat it and how to avoid it. Educate your team by explaining the very real dangers of heat stroke and heat exhaustion and how to avoid it. Give employees OSHA’s protecting workers from heat stress quick cards as a guide to refer to.
- Watch for signs of heat illness While teams may be educated on heat illness and the symptoms, it is still important that managers develop an awareness of what these conditions look like so that you can detect it in employees. Be sure to check on employees regularly and watch for symptoms and changes in behavior. Also, encourage workers to be aware of these symptoms and always take it seriously.
- Ventilate and circulate Ensure that your fabrication shop is removing hot air from the facility. Doing this will help to keep temperatures safe. Air conditioning, portable fans, ceiling fans, exhaust fans and high-volume low speed (HVLS) fans are all effective ways to remove and move air around. Fans help to keep air moving, which is important to reduce stagnate, hot and humid air pockets.
- Require breaks While getting jobs done quickly is important, it should not be at the health of workers. If workers are pushed too hard and not given time to cool down and hydrate, it could result in hospitalization which further reduces productivity. Set aside plenty of breaks throughout the day and consider making them mandatory for all workers.
- Plan work schedules accordingly If it is possible and beneficial, consider not working during the hottest hours of the day. By starting work earlier, you can avoid the extreme heat during the middle of the day. If necessary, work could continue after midday or have another shift that starts later in the day once it has cooled off. If this is not possible and your facility is incredibly hot, be sure to require frequent breaks.
Heat related illnesses must be taken seriously. While there are many steps for prevention, it is still possible to get a heat related illness. While we try to beat the heat, if heat stress symptoms occur do the following:
- Stop physical activity and relax in a cool place
- Drink fluids with salts and electrolytes to replace moisture loss through sweating
- Use cool compresses to decrease temperature
- If heat stroke is suspected, call 911
For additional references on heat illnesses visit the OSHA website.