Each year about this time High School and College bands and football teams begin practice, long hours of marching and running back and forth on a field that can reach 140° F during the hottest part of the afternoon. Someone will die this year in the United States due to heat exhaustion, stroke or heart attach brought on by heat.
No matter how much care is taken each body processes the stresses of heat differently. Most certainly coaches and faculty that are trained to look for signs of distress look after High School students. Are the managers and employees in the dry cleaning and laundry business trained in how to look for stresses caused by heat? Simple answer, NO.
Because this happens every year somewhere in the US we have OSHA guidelines to assist employers in dealing with these situations. To be fair, most of what OSHA requires involves outdoor work. From shelter to water coolers to longer breaks, but it is as I said, an employee who is either ill already or has not been provided enough nourishment containing protein can be subject to the stresses. Even though your employees mostly work indoors it is important to be aware of their personal space because of the heat generated by equipment, particularly presses. We have been in perhaps 4000 dry cleaning plants over the years and it has just become a trend in the last 5 to 10 years to provide either spot cooling or full air conditioning in some parts of the US. The cleaners in the South are acutely aware of this issue and some even close for the week of July 4th when the heat is the greatest and incoming pieces slow down.
So what does it look like when a person with stresses of heat impact them in a negative way?
They slow down and are visibly distressed, they may develop a headache or dizziness or actually faint. Their skin will be sweaty or clammy feeling. They will exhibit irritability or confusion and could have a heightened thirst, nausea, or vomiting. These in their extremes cannot only be distressing to the individual, but to the other employees working in the area of the stressed person. Of course, one of my concerns with employees that faint or fall down in a dry cleaning plant is the steam pipes that are close to the floor and sometimes the traps and pipes lack insulation.
How you deal with this issue in your business is important. Some parts of the US are usually cool and only have a few days or weeks in the true summer that could create a problem but most could be handled with what OSHA calls engineered controls. You and I are familiar with them…as “fans.” In the southern US like the states along our southern border and those above them can be hot for most of the summer and also through the extended summer from about April to October. Air conditioning is expensive but we are told that the productivity gains are worth the cost over the long range. More work can get done with a better environment.
Urge employees working in hot areas of your business to drink water often. And while you cannot provide food for them, it might be wise to provide something cool to eat – or declare a heat stress break during the hottest part of the day. Also, with an awareness safety meeting it would alert employees to look out for each other.
An employee that “believes” it is too hot to work may just be disgruntled with work in general and decides to make a complaint to OSHA, if this happens you can prove you are handling heat in your plant with photos, training records, cooling fans or air conditioning. However, you can only prove you have done it if you actually did. You can visit OSHA.gov/heat stress if you need information beyond the above.
Have a great summer or “global warming season” as some would have you believe.