So, we are smack in the middle of the busy season in the door and window industry. In the process of visiting window factories in the past week I have been on the plant floor quite a bit. My observation – it is HOT out there! With a heat wave blanketing much of the country it very important to look at how we can help our employees stay as cool as possible on the plant floor. With manufacturing workers in short supply, the staffing function is already challenged enough with maintaining adequate staffing levels. This is the time of year when a higher degree of attrition is realized as factory workers reach their limits due to peak production schedules, longer production days, and even Saturday hours. These extremely high temperatures can take quite a toll so keeping cool on the job is of vital importance.

There are three major factors to keeping your employees cool and safe.

1. Keep them hydrated. If the body is losing more water and nutrients through sweat and urination than it is taking in then dehydration and fatigue occurs and this can be dangerous. But drinking plain water is not the key to hydration. The key is to provide the right types of drinks. I saw one factory manager that opened up the soda machine and proudly proclaimed “Free drinks for everyone!” However, the soda machine was stoked with mostly caffeinated beverages such as Coke, Mountain Dew and even Red Bull. Caffeine is a diuretic which makes one urinate more frequently thereby aggravating dehydration as opposed to helping it. So, not only are your employees taking more frequent bathroom breaks, but they are also losing the hydration battle in the process. The best drinks are those that contain the right balance of sodium and electrolytes which are lost as we sweat. Sports drinks can be effective and believe it or not good old fashioned milk can be even better. Indeed some studies suggest that milk can be even more effective than some sports drinks in battling hydration by increasing the absorption of water and electrolytes into the body. Check out this article entitled Is Milk an Effective Rehydration Drink?

2. Study Air Flow in the Factory. I see various factories setting up fans in different parts of the factory and I wonder how was it decided where to put the fans? Oftentimes I see these fans positioned next to a singular work- station blowing directly on only one or two employees. In one situation the worker was a lady with a rather long “ponytail” which made me really wonder how much thought was put into fan placement. Recently a company I visited told me they hired an outside HVAC expert to examine air flow in the factory and as a result they are installing a new system that will replace the entire factory air volume ten times each hour. Such constant air flow will make the whole factory feel cooler. This made me ponder about what a great resource an HVAC expert could be in terms of evaluating the air flow in the entire plant in order to maintain the coolest environment as well as overall air quality for one’s employees. This is certainly a worthwhile investment to consider.

3. Educate your employees on how to stay cool. It is important that employees wear clothing that keeps them both cool and safe. Denim does not keep one cool in the hot summer. Breathable fabrics are the key. Fabric construction and weight is important. Open knits and looser weaves allow fabrics to breath. If you hold a shirt up to a light and you can see quite a bit of light through the shirt then you know air can also go easily through the shirt and it will be breathable. The choice of fabric material is as important as the weave. Certain fabrics such as polyester and nylon help wick moisture away from the skin thereby taking advantage of the body’s natural cooling mechanism. But what if they are operating equipment or handling glass? This may dictate the use of protective clothing which usually is not cool at all. So, what do you do when protection from glass or potential burns trumps breathability for safety considerations?  In this case you need to educate your employees about their cooling points. If they need to cool off quickly because the heat is about to overwhelm them, allow them frequent breaks to actually cool their blood. Help them identify their cooling points! The body’s cooling points are wherever they can feel their pulse. The wrists, neck, insides of knees and elbows, tops of feet and inside of the ankle. These are basically all of the areas where the blood vessels are close to the surface of the skin. By placing these “pulse points” underneath running water or placing a cool wet towel around these areas, then a person can cool down quickly. Now granted not all of these areas are easily accessible but allow them cool down the ones that you can! Above all else, also educate your employees about the warning signs of heat stroke. Most people have heard of heat stroke but many do not know the warning signs which include high body temperature, nausea, vomiting, headache, racing heart-rate and even strange behavior.

With summer production schedules testing our factories to the limit, this summer heat brings employee comfort and safety to the forefront of our concern. Our production workers are the heartbeat of our factories and we must keep them as cool and safe as we can. So, let us do our best to help them beat the heat!

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Hi Jim,

    This is a great article on keeping cool in a tempering plant. I wish I had read this 30 years ago with our start in tempering. Sometimes we overlook the basics of life. Thanks for bringing your easily followed instructions to the trade.

    Paul Bieber

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