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Workplace Heat: Keep Your Employees Cool!

Sep 10, 2015

When you think of heat stress, you may picture outdoor workers in the hot sun. There are many other workers who face hot conditions and never work outdoors. For example, workers in foundries, laundries, construction projects and bakeries can suffer heat stress while on the job.

There are four environmental factors which affect the amount of stress a worker faces in a hot work area: temperature, humidity, radiant heat (such as from the sun or a furnace) and air velocity. Personal characteristics such as age, weight, fitness, medical condition, and acclimatization to the heat, also contribute to a workers tolerance of the heat.

Eliminate heat sources
OSHA makes the following suggestions for protecting workers in hot environments:

  • Use a variety of engineering controls including general ventilation and spot, cooling by local exhaust ventilation, at points of high heat production.
  • Shield workers from radiant heat sources.
  • Use evaporative cooling and mechanical refrigeration.
  • Use cooling fans.
  • Eliminate steam leaks.
  • Implement equipment modifications such as the use of power tools to reduce manual labor and personal cooling devices or protective clothing.
  • Provide plenty of drinking water - as much as a quart per worker per hour.
  • Supervisors should also consider an individual worker's physical condition when determining his or her fitness for a working in hot environments.
Rest periods are key
Alternating work and providing longer rest periods in cool areas can help workers avoid heat stress. If possible, heavy work should be scheduled during the cooler parts of the day.

Acclimatization to the heat through short exposures followed by longer periods of work in the hot environment can reduce heat stress. New employees and workers returning from an absence of two weeks or more should have a five-day period of acclimatization. This period should begin with 50 percent of the normal workload and time exposure the first day with a gradual buildup to 100 percent on the fifth day.

Education is vital
Education is vital so workers are aware of the need to replace fluids and salt lost through sweat. Workers also need to recognize dehydration, exhaustion, fainting, heat cramps and heat stroke. Supervisors should be trained to detect early signs of heat stress and permit workers to interrupt their work if they are extremely uncomfortable.

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