The heat of the summer sun brings to mind sandy beaches, poolside lounging and family trips. Yet for many in manufacturing, the summer heat intensifies the occupational hazards to their health. Not only does the radiant heat from the season create a problem, but heat-producing machinery combined with long work hours can make labor downright exhausting.
What can be done to reduce the heat stress on workers as well as the equipment they operate? Here is a brief look into the dangers of excessive heat in manufacturing and several safety approaches worth considering.
At times referred to as “hot work,” the heat and high temperatures on the factory floor present numerous dangers to employees as they perform their duties. Such tasks may involve interaction with heated gases, open flames, hot surfaces or materials, and electrical friction. Too much exposure to these and more could result in heat stress alongside burns and injury from accidental contact.
Heat stress can lead to many adverse health effects. From heat stroke and exhaustion to cramps and rashes, the potential harms include serious illness and even death. In fact, over 815 workers were killed and 70,000 were seriously injured by heat stress between 1992 and 2017. It also poses a greater risk for those 65 or older as well as individuals who take medication, are overweight, or have heart disease or high blood pressure.
Factory equipment can also malfunction in high temperatures. Although some heavy machinery was designed to withstand heat, certain parts may deteriorate and fail over time. Integral pieces such as hosing, electrical components and sensors could face a shortened life span as they endure extreme exposure to hot temperatures.
While heat exposure cannot be eliminated, the hazards to workers and equipment can be minimized. To start, it’s critical to install and maintain proper ventilation and cooling solutions when applicable to better ensure air is cooled and circulated throughout the facility.
Another important step is to encourage workers to stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration — which is often asymptomatic — could have a profound effect on productivity and reduce a person’s reaction time. Establishing thorough training regimes on the dangers of dehydration and heat stress can make a big difference in early recognition of symptoms and therefore treatment.
Lastly, it’s essential to avoid overheating and overusing equipment. Implement extensive monitoring practices to repair or replace worn equipment to better avert failures and the possible resulting injuries to workers and production.
Protecting personnel from serious, heat-related hazards doesn’t stop there. For further heat stress prevention and worker safety tips, please see the accompanying resource.