Heat Illness Awareness and Prevention, No Matter the Situation
In the midst of July 1999, during one of the hottest months of the year, a worker at a New Jersey paper manufacturing mill was in the middle of his night shift. His "day" kicked off with a hectic start, jumping to action to help fix a paper break in one of the mill's paperboard machines. After the repair was complete, his coworkers reported seeing him looking pale and exhausted. Less than an hour later, the worker fell into a paper pulp chest and died from multiple
Working at a pulp and paper mill is inherently a blisteringly hot and sweaty job. Wood is chopped up, boiled into pulp, smashed onto wide wire screens, and dried and flattened by heated rollers. In the case of this New Jersey machine operator, repairing a paper break imposed even tougher operating conditions; he was physically exerting himself, working with the rollers directly, and the large size of the paper made work suffocating. We do not know the exact cause of this worker's fall into the tank, but we do know that the heat was having an effect on him that night. This heat, combined with the slippery floors and the use of a frequently traveled shortcut within the mill, were all contributing factors to this worker's extremely unfortunate accident.
The pulp and paper manufacturing industry
According to OSHA, in just one year (2014), "2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job" (OSHA). The temperature, type of environment, and the work being done all contribute to hazardous working conditions.
Know Your Surroundings and Have a Cooldown Plan
A primary step to protecting your workers from heat stress is to know the environment and conditions they are operating in. Be conscious of all the potential hazards, and ask yourself these questions:
- What is the temperature? How often is it being monitored and what steps are in place to react once it reaches a certain level?
heat sources (ex: machines, lighting, etc.) aremy workers exposed to?
- Is there any shade for them to take respite in? Do you have a cool down station?
- Is there adequate air circulation? Can they feel a breeze or is air stagnant?
- Are they wearing bulky or non-breathable clothing or PPE?
- How strenuous is the task they are performing?
To help identify heat hazards associated with
|Heat Index||Risk Level||Protective Measure|
|Less than 91°F||Lower (Caution)||Basic heat safety and planning|
|91°F to 103°F||Moderate||Implement precautions and heighten awareness|
|103°F to 115°F||High||Additional precautions to protect workers|
|Greater than 115°F||Very High to Extreme||Triggers even more aggressive protective measures|
A heat index can be calculated using an environmental monitoring tool. Details on protective measures to take once the index reaches a certain level can be seen by clicking the respective links in the Risk Level column above.
A heat stress prevention safety plan should have a cooldown plan in place for workers to follow if they recognize different signs of heat illness in their coworkers. Additional and necessary safeguards include:
- Make cool water available to workers, and encourage them to avoid soda or drinks with high sugar or caffeine content.
- Provide sunscreen and other sunlight protection, such as a hat or sunblocking cloth.
- Create shade with a canopy if it doesn't already exist in your environment.
- Communicate with your workers the importance of drinking water even if they're not thirsty, as well as the hazards associated with heat.
- Implement a work/rest plan to help your workers acclimatize to the environment, give their bodies the breaks they need, and avoid heat stress.
Perform Unscheduled Site Visits
An approach many of us in safety circles look to as a proven way to improve site safety is unscheduled site visits. Paired with scheduled inspections, these help reduce worker exposure to hazardous conditions and demonstrate management's commitment to providing a safe working environment. They also help you stay in touch with your workers and are an opportunity to make adjustments to a worksite, such as bringing additional heat relief supplies on a particularly hot day.
Bring In Some Outside Help
If designing and implementing a safety program specific to heat stress, or any other workplace hazards, is outside the means of your company, find an external partner who has safety program experience. Beyond bringing a wealth of expertise and knowledge, safety professionals from outside the company provide a fresh set of eyes on a work environment. They usually have an abundance of experience within a given field and can provide a safety program proven to work. Learn more about the safety programs that ORR offers here.
Heat illness doesn't only occur underneath sweltering sun rays, it can strike in a variety of circumstances and environments. As an employer, it is your obligation to provide your workers with the knowledge to overcome the heat and the tools needed to do so. At ORR, we have experience helping companies of all sizes in different industries develop and implement safety programs. To learn more about how we can help your organization maintain a safe and healthy work environment, contact us with details about your situation and one of our safety experts will get back to you.
NIOSH (2014) Machine Operator Crushed in a Paper-Pulp Storage Tank. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/face/stateface/nj/99nj062.html
OSHA. Water. Rest. Shade. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html
OSHA. Occupational Heat Exposure. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/