The inherent dangers of industrial laundering have been well-documented. Potentially contaminated sharps lurk in soiled linen. Heavy slings or bags dangle overhead. Large, moving equipment threatens to maim or even kill if a worker makes a wrong move.
Heat stress doesn’t harbor the immediate threat of these other hazards, but it’s one that can still pack a deadly wallop if treated too lightly.LOOK FOR WARNING SIGNS
When the body can’t cool itself, heat-induced illnesses such as heat stress or heat exhaustion and the more severe heatstroke can occur, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) says, and can result in death.
High temperature and humidity; direct sun or heat; limited air movement; physical exertion; poor physical condition; some medications; and inadequate tolerance for hot places are workplace factors that lead to heat stress.
Heat exhaustion produces symptoms such as headaches or fainting; weakness and moist skin; mood changes; and upset stomach or vomiting. Symptoms of heatstroke include dry, hot skin with no sweating; mental confusion or loss of consciousness; and seizures or convulsions.
“The very nature of the laundry business makes it difficult if not impossible to air-condition the entire laundry,” says Eric Frederick, a 30-plus-year veteran who managed a plant in Alabama before his current stint with a healthcare plant in Virginia. “It is imperative for managers to assist their employees in adapting to these changing conditions.”THAT'S THE SPOT
Portable evaporative coolers from companies such as Quietaire direct hot air through a cooling media saturated with water. Similar to the conditions created when a rainstorm approaches, the temperature can drop by 20 degrees or more because the air coming from the fan has been water-cooled.
“You may have seen some spot-cooling systems displayed at the Clean Show,” Frederick says. “The cost of many of them can easily be justified by the higher productivity you’ll gain during the summer months through their use.”
In larger plants, high-volume, low-speed, ceiling-mounted fans from companies such as Big Ass Fans increase the rate at which perspiration is evaporated from a worker’s skin by supplying steady, gentle breezes.
“Feeling the air movement that a fan provides can give your employees a tremendous physiological boost,” says Frederick.ADJUSTMENTS TO KEEP COOL
Aside from these tools, a laundry manager can implement some simple operational changes to combat the heat:
- When feasible, adjust shifts to avoid working during the hottest part of the day.
- Rotate job assignments so that workers stay fresh longer.
- Allow for extra breaks in cool areas during periods of intense heat.
- Make sure your staff has an adequate supply of cold water.
- Encourage employees to wear light, loose-fitting, breathable (like cotton) clothing.
By ensuring that workers stay cool and comfortable while on the job, a laundry will remain productive while protecting its most important assets.