It’s summer, and the temperature is soaring outside. It’s also soaring inside many plastics manufacturing plants. We all know that high temperatures can cause health issues such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion, and we all want to keep our employees safe. But, how do we do that? You remember that old adage, “prevention is better than cure.”
In the blog, Tips to Prevent Heat Stress in Warehouses and Manufacturing Plants, for Reliable Plant, Nikki Heinkel wrote that “heat-related illness is largely preventable.” She then gave five tips “… you can do to keep your facility cool, comfortable and safe.”
Educate: Make sure every employee knows about the dangers of heat stress and how to recognize, treat and avoid it.
Rob Clothier, Human Resources Manager for Team 1 Plastics, said that at the beginning of the summer, the company places Heat Safety Awareness information on its Safety board in the company’s Break Rooms for all Team Members to see. He also shares heat safety information with the company’s supervisors, reminding them to “keep an eye on their teams and allow for extra breaks when it’s extremely hot.”
Hydrate: 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.
Clothier said that Team 1 Plastics supplies Gatorade, popsicles, and ice to its Team Members during the summer. Team Members are able to help themselves to these items at any time during their work shift.
Something new that Team 1 Plastics is using to eliminate Team Members’ dehydration are evaporate cooling vests. Team 1’s Production Buyer/Planner, Marcus Battin explained how these vests work. “The Team Member soaks the vest in cold water for 2-5 minutes, wrings it out, and puts it on. As the temperature and humidity increases, the water in the vest evaporates, but the material used in the vest keeps the inside section of the vest cool, keeping the Team Member’s body core cool for up to six hours.” Team 1 originally purchased five vests to test how they worked and to determine if they would be effective for its Team Members. Feedback from the Team Members was so positive that the company ordered 15 more. Battin said, “We’ve got 17 vests currently being used by Team Members in the plant."
Production Assistant Scott Castle said, “The cooling vests are very helpful on hot days to keep you cooler and prevent you from feeling bad from the heat. The vests only weigh about 2.5 lbs. when wet -- which isn’t that heavy.” He added, “They really help me be more productive.”
Jessica Farmer, another Production Assistant, said, “I really like my cooling vest. I can work very comfortably in 96-98 degrees and barely sweat. Since this was issued to me, I haven't had any problems with the heat or heat-related illnesses. In my opinion, this is the best investment to the Team Members who have to work in the heat.”
Rather than cooling vests, Team 1’s Maintenance Department asked for and has been furnished with cooling headbands. Battin said that the material in the headbands is the same as the vests. “Using a cooling headband helps keep the sweat out of your face and helps keep your head cool.”
Ventilate: 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.
According to Gary Grigowski, Team 1’s Vice President and Co-owner, Team 1’s plant has an exhaust system at the top of its walls, and exterior doors are routinely open in the plant. The company added some additional ventilating equipment this year. “Leading up to this summer,” Grigowski said, “we installed an additional through wall ventilation fan. We also purchased two additional spot coolers [portable, compact air conditioners] for use out on the floor. We have a total of five spot coolers on the plant floor.”
Grigowski also said that Team 1 is testing an energy savings idea that has a side benefit of reducing the amount of heat that the plastics injection molding presses give off. “We’ve installed heater band blankets on two of our presses with the idea that the machines will dump less heat into the plant. It’s mainly being driven as an energy savings item, but it would undoubtedly help with the temperature in the plant.” Although the company has not measured the difference in temperature of a press wrapped in a blanket with one not wrapped, Grigowski said “I can walk up to the blanket that we have on a press, and I can safely set my hand on it.” Normally, placing a hand on a press would seriously burn a person.
Circulate: Without movement, air in a large structure can stratify and stagnate, creating pockets and layers of hot, humid, stale air. Use high-volume, low-speed ceiling fans and portable fans to improve air circulation, especially in irregular areas.
Team 1 utilizes several high-volume, low-speed fans (HVLS) in its plant to circulate the air. In addition, Clothier said that the company recently added fans to each station in the Assembly department (located in the Warehouse) to make that area more comfortable.
Dehumidify: 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.
Although Team 1 doesn’t use dehumidifiers or have air conditioning throughout the plant, the Break Rooms and Offices are air conditioned.
Team 1 Plastics is in a unique position this summer of having the flexibility with its production schedule to shut down or reduce production during days with the worst humidity conditions. Grigowski explained, “We have the flexibility to decide which Saturdays we were going to shut down, and we ended up choosing to do things a little bit differently based on the heat index warnings. If we have the ability, we change our schedule to shut down on what we believe will be the worst days.”
“This summer, don't let high heat get you down.” Heinkel concluded. “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."