The Importance of Heat Awareness in Manufacturing Facilities
Heat illnesses and injuries are on the rise in the U.S., and this trend is also true of indoor workers. Shielded from outdoor heat exposure, it’s common for employers to overlook the importance of heat awareness in manufacturing facilities.
Given the severe, potentially fatal nature of heat illness, employers are required to take measures in preventing and responding to heat illnesses experienced by their employees.
Regulators are Emphasizing Improved Heat Awareness and Safety in Manufacturing Facilities
According to the EPA, the number of heat waves (defined by a four-day stretch of high temperatures above the 10-year average) has tripled since 1990. Unsurprisingly, heat injuries and illnesses have climbed alongside this trend, leading OSHA to begin discussions about national heat safety standards.
There are early signs that OSHA is getting tougher in this regard. In October 2021, the administration published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) – the first public step that OSHA takes before implementing new safety standards. The October 2021 ANPRM was specific to outdoor and indoor heat hazards, so it’s clearly an OSHA priority.
In April 2022, OSHA enacted a National Emphasis Program (NEP) that included three participating states – California, Minnesota, and Washington. The NEP is a three-year program that gives OSHA authority to perform on-the-spot workplace inspections for heat hazards. OSHA has inspected more than 1,500 businesses already in this fashion, and the resulting information will be used to further develop heat safety standards.
In the most recent update in November 2023, OSHA surveyed small businesses and interfaced with small business advocacy groups to gain further insight into heat safety implementation.
While it’s true that government maneuvers can take a long time to realize, there are clear signs that OSHA will launch new heat safety standards in the near future.
Common Heat Hazards in Manufacturing Facilities
OSHA’s interest in heat safety extends indoors as there are several hazards specific to manufacturing facilities and industrial centers. Heat-related risks may be elevated among employees working indoors, especially if the following factors are present:
- Heat generating equipment and machinery – Milling machines, turning machines, presses and grinders all output significant amounts of heat that spills into the environment and puts workers at risk of heat illness. If the equipment is poorly insulated, it can cause an immediate heat hazard around the machinery’s operating area.
- Other radiant heat sources – Other sources of radiant heat in manufacturing facilities include ovens, furnaces, and kilns. Each can output intense levels of thermal energy, requiring workers to don protective gear that increases heat risks.
- Lack of air movement – Air circulation is essential for venting heat out of the facility and preserving safe working environments. In manufacturing centers, strategic fan and HVAC vent placement will help circulate cooler air through the facility. In warehouses, hangars, and other large industrial centers, opening up a large bay door can promote better air circulation.
- Constant physical labor – Modern manufacturing facilities rely on automation to an extent, but there is still plenty of manual labor happening. With workers in constant motion, exertion-related heat must be factored in. If your employees do a lot of lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying, your facilities will need measures in place to offset that additional thermal output.
- Heavy protective clothing – Personal protective equipment (PPE) may include heavy clothing that traps heat, causing the worker’s body temperature to rise, even if they’re standing in one spot. If there are other hazards at your facilities that demand safety wear, consider the additional thermal burden on employees.
- Exposure to sunlight – Sunlight means heat, so if it’s cascading in through windows or open doors, your facilities will have additional thermal energy to contend with. It’s easy to dismiss a patch of sunlight here or there in a manufacturing facility, but it can be a threat if additional heat risks are present, like poor air circulation or heavy protective wear.
These hazards are in addition to extreme outdoor temperatures, which can also influence the relative heat levels inside buildings. Clearly, there are several heat-related risk factors to account for, but there are steps employers can take to lower the risk of heat illness affecting their employees.
How to Improve Heat Awareness in Manufacturing Facilities
The key to preventing heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and other heat illnesses is awareness. If workers are aware of heat stress symptoms and dangers, they can take the appropriate action before a situation becomes critical. Here is what employers can do to improve heat awareness in manufacturing facilities:
- Developing a heat illness prevention plan – Every workplace must have a safety plan in place per OSHA regulations. With the level of heat danger and heat fatalities on the rise, employers are also encouraged to develop a heat-specific safety plan that tackles heat illnesses specifically.
This plan should include everything else on this list, as well as the plan’s training and implementation procedures.
- Training each worker on the plan’s details – Every employee should undergo heat safety training, using the procedures and practices derived from your heat safety plan. Training typically includes pointing out heat hazards, noticing the symptoms of heat illness, the location and use of all heat safety resources (such as water or cooling stations), and emergency procedures should severe heat illness occur.
- Identifying where heat hazards are likely to emerge – All heat safety plans should point out the location and nature of any heat hazards present at the facility. Consider including maps and floor plans to assist with this communication to facility staff and visitors.
- Keeping an eye on environmental conditions – Working conditions can change quickly, so it’s important for your staff to monitor temperatures in real time. As environmental conditions change, your heat safety plan may call for additional measures, such as implementing work rotations or mandatory cooling breaks.
- Investing in heat safety resources – An inexpensive and effective way to track temperature is to provide employees with liquid crystal thermometers (LCTs). LCTs are accurate within a degree or two and can provide a reading within seconds. The thermometers are practically weightless and can be scaled down to fit into a TWIC card or something similar. With LCT-integrated TWIC cards, your workers can wear their temperature-tracking tool on a lanyard or place it in a pocket.
Additional heat safety resources include heat safety signage, which is used to point out high-risk areas, first aid stations, showers, and other points of interest when a heat emergency develops. OSHA considers safety signage to be an irreplaceable aspect of worker safety, so investing in it now will keep your facilities compliant for longer.
- Develop heat emergency protocols – Even with robust prevention methods in place, heat illness remains a threat to industrial workers. A heat safety plan should formalize any emergency response to optimize response time and effectiveness.
Emergency measures typically include moving the worker to a cool area, applying cool water or towels to the skin of the affected employee, administering fluids if possible, and contacting emergency medical personnel right away. It’s standard practice for a heat safety plan to include contact information for a nearby hospital or medical facility.
Heat Awareness in Manufacturing Facilities Can Save Lives
Heat illnesses and fatalities are becoming more common for workers across many industries and in many work settings. This includes indoor work settings like manufacturing facilities.
It’s a common but potentially costly mistake for facility operators to discount the severity of potential heat hazards, but there can be fatal consequences.
A proven approach to undercutting those hazards is preparation. Specifically, preparing workers with heat-specific training and resources. LCTs and safety signage are two examples of budget-friendly items that can boost heat awareness and safety in manufacturing facilities. Speak with your heat-aware specialist to see how you can protect your employees.