Keep it Cool: Eight Important Steps to Implement Heat Safety in Your Facility

By M. B. Sutherland

Walking into a glass plant can feel a bit like walking into a furnace. Whether in the cooler winter and spring months or the hottest part of the summer, having a proper heat safety program is critical. Heat safety is easier to implement and less expensive than some other hazards, and heat illness is 100% preventable. Here are eight simple steps you can implement in your facility immediately.

1. Train workers on heat hygiene. Heat hygiene means ensuring every worker understands the basics of staying safe in the heat. That means providing heat safety training, using heat safety posters, and providing regular verbal reminders in meetings or throughout the day on the job. For safety managers, it includes monitoring the temperature in every part of the facility throughout the day and adjusting safety protocols accordingly.

2. Provide easy access to hydration. One advantage to working in a facility instead of outdoors is that it’s always easy to have cool beverages on hand. However, it’s crucial to remember that you can still suffer a deadly heat stroke even while well-hydrated. Working hard in the heat can cause a person’s body to produce internal heat faster than it can shed it. So, while hydration is essential, you can’t rely on it alone.

3. Acclimate workers to the heat. More than 70% of heat-related deaths happen in the first week of working in a hot environment. Acclimating workers to the heat slowly, starting with just an hour or two in the heat and increasing work time over several days, allows the body to “learn” to sweat more, lowers the heart rate, and makes the person more able to tolerate hot working conditions.

4. Monitor heat with a wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) monitor. You may think of a WBGT monitor as a tool for outdoors only, but it can also be helpful indoors. Portable and accurate, these monitors can consider ambient heat, humidity and radiant heat from machinery and processes to tell you the actual temperature of various areas in your plant so you can adjust heat mitigation accordingly.

5. Consider physiological monitoring. Wearable monitors are not yet accurate enough to give us a simple “yes” or “no” that someone is at risk of heat illness, but they can help to alert you of warning signs. High skin temperature or heart rate can be a tipoff that you should evaluate yourself or a coworker.

6. Provide regular access to body cooling stations. Here too, something difficult outdoors is easier in a facility. But be sure to designate air-conditioned body cooling areas such as break and lunchrooms that are accessible to workers when needed. Also, have policies allowing people to cool off and rehydrate at regular intervals if they begin to feel ill.

7. Teach heat emergency procedures. Ensuring every employee knows what to do in a heat illness emergency saves lives. Post instructions in multiple places advising workers of the signs and symptoms and what to do in case of a heat stroke. Provide access to a cold-water immersion tub to treat heat stroke, train everyone on when and how to use it, and make sure everyone understands the principle of “Cool First, Transport Second.”

8. Provide body cooling PPE. Since workers can only spend so much time in a body cooling area, it’s important to provide methods of lowering their skin temperature during work too. New technologies in cooling garments skip the soggy, slimy feeling of old-school cooling gear in favor of chemical-free towels, bandannas, gaiters and skull caps that activate and reactivate any time with water of any temperature, cool to as low as 30 degrees below body temperature, and stay cool for up to two hours.

These eight steps can mean the difference between health and disability or even life and death for your workers.

M.B. Sutherland is a senior safety writer at Magid Glove & Safety based in Romeoville, Ill.

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