Factory, warehouse and industrial employees are as susceptible to the ravages of high temperatures as outdoor workers. In a confined space, for example, especially with heat-generating equipment, employees quickly can become exhausted and overheated. Moreover, workers in manufacturing shops wearing personal protective equipment are at an even higher risk for heat-related issues, given that protective equipment such as protective clothing or respirators can trap heat next to the body. In fact, according to the Labor Department, each year thousands of people at work become sick from heat-related illnesses. In 2014, at least 30 U.S. workers died from heat exposure, according to the agency.
What’s important for manufacturing employers to understand is how the body handles heat and hot conditions when evaluating the potential for employee heat-related illnesses. As temperatures rise, the body releases heat more slowly. As humidity increases, sweat evaporation decreases and stagnant air makes sweat evaporation even more difficult. When these factors are combined, you have a higher potential for health and safety concerns. Additionally, the chances for accidents due to sweaty hands, dizziness and decreased mental alertness rise considerably. Increased body temperature and discomfort also can lead to irritability and frustration that could contribute to more careless behavior. This puts employees, coworkers and the work environment at risk when temperatures rise.
In addition to increasing the likelihood of injury or illness on the job, a hot work environment can contribute to a slower work pace. Studies show that worker productivity will decrease by more than one percent for every two degrees that temperatures rise over 77°F. At temperatures of 92°F or higher, there is a 16.6% decrease in productivity.
Heat-intense environments are not just physically uncomfortable – they can be costly for a company with on-the-job injuries and illnesses resulting in higher Workers Compensation costs. What’s more, OSHA requires employers to provide a safe working environment, including limiting the exposure of employees to high temperatures and increasing the frequency of breaks in a cool environment. If management could have reasonably foreseen the effects of the high temperatures on employees and did nothing about it, resulting liability issues can come into play.
Avoiding heat-related injuries in manufacturing plants
According to OSHA, basic heat safety measures need to take place when temps hit 90°F, with increased heat precautions used for temperatures at graduated intervals from there. Following are some measures to implement:
- Employers should ensure that plenty of fluids are on hand.
- Schedule rest breaks to help workers recover. OSHA advises workers to rest in the shade or in air-conditioning when possible to help them cool down.
- Be sure workers are informed and trained on recognizing heat illness signs and symptoms.
- Encourage workers to monitor each other for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.
RPS can assist you with a comprehensive manufacturing insurance program including Workers Compensation insurance to help protect your clients. In addition, supporting the effectiveness of any insurance program is a robust safety program that covers all potential exposures, with which our carrier partners can assist.