The summer months of July and August are often the most popular times of year for workers to take annual leave and jet off on holiday. However, this is also when larger fabricating companies may see shop floor safety suffer and their capacity stretched due to more staff having work-related injuries.
According to ‘The Seasonal Timing of Work-Related Injuries’ by the Bureau of Labor Statistics*, July sees the highest number of work place injuries, with a higher number of multiple injuries reported, compared to the Autumn and Winter months. There are various factors which could contribute to this finding which we cover in further detail.
Hot working conditions
According to the Health and Safety Executive, many workers that are working in hot conditions, such as foundries and ceramic plants, may experience heat stress, especially during the summer when there is an increased risk. Air temperature, work rate, humidity and work clothing can cause heat stress, when the body’s unable to control its internal temperature.
If someone is suffering from heat stress they may find it difficult to concentrate, experience heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heat rash, severe thirst and muscle cramps. This lack of concentration can lead to accidents on the shop floor. Find out more on how the spot the signs of heat stress and exhaustion - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heat-exhaustion-heatstroke/
Research ± has shown that workers exposed to heat can experience physical discomfort, reduced vigilance and increased fatigue which could lead to accidents and injuries, such as slips, trips and falls. When working in hot environments, they are more likely to sweat which may affect activities requiring grip, using equipment and influence manual performance.
Further research π found that outside workers were more likely to be affected when carrying out mixed and non-manual occupations, as these tasks may require more complex perceptual motor tasks which are more likely to be influenced by the heat.
It’s not only at work where we see more injuries. With the warmer weather, people spend a lot more time outside enjoying themselves and usually being more active which may result in more sprains and strains, especially if they haven’t done any physical activity in a while.
With more people working on outdoor projects in the summer, research ± found an increase in accidents when using hand tools as temperatures increase. This could be due to the reduced vigilance typically experienced in hot weather, as previously mentioned, which could lead to injury and unexpected time off work.
With the majority of people looking to go on holiday with their families during the summer, remind staff about potential summer hazards during their time off and make sure work shifts are planned in advance for covering shifts when workers are on annual leave and in case of unexpected time-off.
Ensure all workers are thoroughly cross-trained in safely handling and using any tools, equipment and toxic materials.
Here are some ways to reduce heat stress in a hot working environment:
- Control the temperature with fans and air conditioning, when possible
- Provide mechanical aids to reduce the work rate and manual operations
- Regulate the workers’ exposure to the hot environment, for example, allow regular rest breaks in cooler areas and work only at cooler times of the day or when the temperature is below a set level.
- Provide plenty of cool drinking water to prevent dehydration
- Provide personal protective equipment, which incorporates breathable fabrics and wicking materials where possible (please review your PPE requirements for your business and industry as regulations do vary)
- Provide training on the risks and symptoms of heat stress and safe working practices
- Allow workers to acclimatise to their environment and identify workers who may be more susceptible to heat stress due to an illness, condition or medication. You may need advice from an occupational health professional
- Monitor the health of workers at risk and ensure trained first aiders are onsite at all times during working hours
If working outside, don’t forget to apply sun cream, drink plenty of water, take breaks and stay in the shade where possible, to avoid heat exhaustion. The NHS recommends spending time in the shade between 11am and 3pm and to use at least factor 30 sun screen. It is also important to cover up where possible with suitable clothing and PPE to minimise the risk of sunburn and heat stroke.
Although it may be tempting to take off your PPE in warm weather, you don’t want to injure yourself and subsequently need time off work.
If you’re carrying out any cutting or grinding, make sure you wear the following:
- Anti-fogging or ventilated safety goggles
- Safety gloves made of breathable materials
- Dust masks
- Ear defenders
- Protective clothing that features breathable and moisture wicking materials (this may not be suitable for all industries)
- Cooling vests for workers who are at risk of heat stress and fatigue
- Safety shoes
If you’re using cutting-off and grinding wheels, make sure you follow these safety tips here.
Click here for safety advice when using diamond blades.
For a more detailed assessment of your working practices and to ensure you are doing everything possible to minimise your risks in the workplace, speak to your health and safety personnel and occupational therapist for specific help and advice on keeping safe in the workplace during hotter temperatures.