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Triple-Digit Temps—Don’t Forget Indoor Workers

Temperatures in the southern part of California soared to 120 degrees as the summer solstice arrived. Obviously, employers of outdoor employees are on alert, but manufacturers employing indoor workers also need to warn line workers, supervisors, managers and admin folks of the health and safety threats of high heat for inside workers.

While California currently has rules in effect governing safety for outdoor workers’ heat exposure, Cal/OSHA is also undertaking a rulemaking process to create a standard for the protection of indoor workers’ health and safety related to heat exposure. That effort is in response to S.B. 1167, a law Governor Jerry Brown signed last October, directing Cal/OSHA to create and adopt the standard and include a high-heat provision for workplaces. A proposed rule is to be submitted to the Cal/OSHA Standards Board by Jan. 1, 2019. The law doesn’t specify what kinds of workplaces the standard should cover, but it almost surely will include training requirements and air quality measurement technology—including temperature and humidity.

While the rule is being developed—a process manufacturers can play a part in by participating in the CalChamber working group on the matter—businesses in the manufacturing sector can take proactive steps to minimize the chances their employees will fall ill or be harmed. Let’s look at some of the heat-related factors manufacturers should be aware of when trying to protect employees.

  • Temperature and Humidity – Heat stress is exacerbated by humidity. Using a wet bulb globe temperature-indexing instrument, manufacturers can measure ambient temperature, humidity and radiant heat and their effect on human heat stress in the monitored environment. The National Weather Service offers a “General Heat Stress Index” that can be used as a reference guide to determine danger levels.
  • Employee Rate of Work Sedentary – Employees will likely have a lower heat-related risk level than active employees, so include activity levels in your calculations of heat stress.
  • Proximity to Heat Source –  If you have employees who are working in a generally comfortable environment but whose work zone is close to a heat-producing machine, their heat-stress levels will need to be monitored separately.
  • Personal Factors – Employees with certain health problems, weight issues or disabilities or on certain medications may be more susceptible to heat. Know these factors and consider them in your safety plan. Additionally, certain clothing or personal protective equipment can prevent heat loss or evaporation of sweat, inhibiting the body’s natural cooling process.

Michigan State University has an old but still very useful set of guidelines for indoor heat stress, which includes a chart on signs and symptoms. Some of those symptoms include dizziness (mild in the early stages), irritability, fatigue, a prickling sensation, cramps, heavy thirst, fast pulse, slurred speech, nausea, cessation of sweating and fainting. In the later stages of heat illness, the person’s temperature might drop, and heat stroke can occur suddenly. DO NOT WAIT FOR THIS TO OCCUR. Train employees to recognize the signs of heat-related illness and to take measures to get affected workers treatment.

Preventive measures include proper ventilation, regular rotation into cool areas, consistent and regular hydration (avoiding drinks with any kind of sugar or caffeine), and attentive monitoring of air conditions and employee well-being, especially on hot days or in hot environments.

Keep in mind that air pollution becomes a greater factor on sweltering days and that some employees, while not particularly heat sensitive, may be very susceptible to respiratory problems associated with airborne contaminants that linger in stuffy rooms. It may be worth having an air-quality specialist advise you on how to keep your manufacturing operation safe from heat-related stressors, especially during these summer months. By taking steps to prevent heat illness and injury, you can protect your employees, maintain productivity and avoid costly workers’ compensation claims.

About Precision Manufacturing Insurance Services

Precision Manufacturing Insurance Services (PMIS), specialists in insuring manufacturers throughout California, can provide you with both the Workers’ Compensation coverage you require and the loss control services you need to help manage your risk. Our health insurance plans can help employees with health maintenance, as well. We can also review your entire insurance portfolio and advise you on other areas of business protection. Give us a call at 855.910.5788.

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