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Don't look now, but 2016 is shaping up to be a scorcher of a summer. After the warmest April ever recorded, temperatures in the next few months are expected to remain above average throughout most of North America.
Summer heat can become a serious safety concern in warehouses and manufacturing facilities. Radiant heat can easily penetrate a building's roof and raise workplace temperatures to an unsafe level, especially in situations where workers are engaged in strenuous or prolonged physical activity. Employee heat stress not only adversely affects worker productivity, but it can also result in serious illness and even death.
Every warehouse manager should be able to identify heat-related stress and illness, and take steps to protect their employees from a preventable tragedy. Let's take a look at the different types of heat stress and what you can do about them.
Heat cramps are muscle cramps or spasms that occur during or after strenuous activity. They are caused by low salt and fluid levels from excessive sweating. Afflicted workers should be given electrolyte replacement fluids or a combination of water and a snack every 15-20 minutes. Medical assistance should be sought if cramps persist for an hour or more.
Heat syncope is fainting, dizziness or light-headedness after prolonged standing or when suddenly standing up in warm conditions. Dehydration is a major contributing factor. It also happens more frequently in workers who are not used to the heat. Treatment involves having the afflicted person rest in a cool place and rehydrate with cool water or a sports drink.
Heat exhaustion occurs when a person loses an excessive amount of water and salt through perspiration. Symptoms include high body temperature, excessive sweating, thirst, headache, weakness, irritability, nausea and dizziness. Heat exhaustion is a serious condition and calls for immediate medical care. If you cannot transport the person to a clinic or emergency room, call 9-1-1. In the meantime, take measures to cool and rehydrate the individual, such as removing excess clothing, applying cold compresses and giving frequent sips of cool water.
Rhabdomyolysis is a condition in which prolonged heat stress and exertion cause muscle tissue to break down rapidly. Suspect this condition if you observe muscle cramping, irregular heartbeat, brown-colored urine, weakness or exercise intolerance in a worker. Untreated, rhabdomyolysis can cause serious heart and kidney damage. Seek medical treatment immediately.
Heat stroke is a highly serious medical condition that calls for immediate emergency action. It occurs when the body's heat-regulating mechanisms fail and body temperatures rise rapidly with no internal means to stop it. Symptoms include hot, dry skin (or sometimes uncontrolled sweating), extremely high body temperatures, confusion, slurred speech, hallucinations and seizures. Heat stroke can result in a coma or death. If you suspect heat stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately and get the worker to a cool place. Remove excess clothing and cool the body as much as possible using ice baths and cold-water compresses, saturating their clothing with cool water and circulating air to promote evaporative cooling.
Fortunately, heat-related illness is largely preventable. Here are some things you can do to keep your facility cool, comfortable and safe.
Make sure every employee knows about the dangers of heat stress and how to recognize, treat and avoid it.
Dehydration is a major contributor to heat-related illness. Provide your employees with drinking water and/or sports drinks at all times, and encourage them to drink frequently.
Exhausting the hot air from your facility will go a long way toward keeping the temperature at a safe level. Equipment such as air conditioning, portable fans, ceiling fans and exhaust fans are suitable for this purpose.
Without movement, air in a large structure can stratify and stagnate, creating pockets and layers of hot, humid, stale air. Keep in mind that an air conditioner is a point source cooling solution and often won't provide uniform cooling in a large space. Use high-volume, low-speed ceiling fans and portable fans to improve air circulation, especially in irregular areas.
High humidity worsens the effect of heat because it reduces the evaporative cooling effect of perspiration. Installing dehumidifiers in high-use areas can help keep conditions more comfortable.
This summer, don't let high heat get you down. With proper awareness and prevention techniques, you and your employees can stay cool, productive and — most importantly — safe, no matter how high the mercury rises.
Nikki Heinkel is the marketing manager for Go Fan Yourself, a company that manufactures industrial high-volume, low-speed fans for spaces in need of an energy-efficient air-movement solution, such as warehousing, manufacturing, agricultural and commercial facilities.