Hot Workers Pose a Health and Safety Risk
Although it can be extremely variable, as the weather heats up in summer, so does the temperature in the workplace. This can have a number of health and safety implications for your workers and employees.
A hotter air temperature can lead to drowsiness, which is an obvious danger for those workers operating machinery or performing tasks that require high levels of concentration to prevent an incident from occurring. Examples of this include construction site workers operating cranes, driving trucks etc, where falling asleep whilst the machinery is in motion, or losing concentration, could easily lead to a serious injury or fatality, either to themselves, to fellow workers, to nearby members of the public or to site visitors.
Even if a worker is awake and alert, if they feel too hot it may lead to them not wearing the required protective equipment in order to try and keep cool. Protective headgear, gloves, fireproof clothing etc trap heat as well as protecting the body, which can significantly raise a person's temperature. Failing to wear safety equipment greatly increases the chances of a serious injury or death occurring in the event of an incident.
There is also a great belief that people become more irritable when they are hot. This can increase the chances of violence and conflict in the workplace. Not only can this result in immediate injuries if an argument results in actual physical conflict, but can also have a much more long-term effect on morale and teamwork. As well as the persons involved, who may not communicate with each other afterwards, but other workers may take sides and cause division within the team.
To reduce the health and safety risks associated with hot temperatures, remedial action such as the use of air conditioning and fans can provide a cooler workplace; one that has a much more comfortable ambient temperature. A fan may not be suitable for all places of work though. For example, it may create a COSHH hazard if it stirs up settled dust which is subsequently breathed in by those nearby. Depending on the work or timescales involved, employees of some companies may be able to switch tasks depending on the weather (e.g. construction workers doing work on the inside of a project to keep themselves out of the sun, and then resuming work outdoors when it is cooler).
Having employees attend health and safety training courses will also provide them with a greater understanding of the dangers that are present in their particular workplace, which may mean they think twice before taking risks such as not using protective equipment just because they are hot.
Hot Work Health and Safety
Employees are not just at risk from overheating when the weather is warm though. Certain job roles in particular industries will find people working in areas of high temperatures. For them, the weather outside will make little difference.
These activities and industries include:
- Steel Foundries
- Car Plants
- Geological Surveying
All hot work such as welding has the potential to cause a fire and endanger the health and safety of those in the area. The flame, sparks and heat generated by the equipment used in the works can provide the ignition to start a fire when it is combined with a suitable combustible source of fuel.
It is vital therefore that those involved with hot works have received detailed and appropriate fire health and safety training, which can include training on the specific safe usage of the equipment, training in hot permit to work procedures, and obtaining accredited fire safety qualifications such as the NEBOSH Fire Certificate.
To avoid the combining of fuel and sources of ignition, additional precautions need to be taken. For a start, all flammable material that can be removed from the area where the hot work is taking place should be moved well out of the way. Not only does this include combustible solid material, but also liquids such as oil or petrol that has been spilt on the floor and could ignite should be removed. If it cannot be completely cleaned up and removed, the hot works should not take place there as it will be too dangerous.
As a fire is more likely to start in the area where the hot work is taking place, it is therefore prudent to have fire fighting equipment such as suitable fire extinguishers located close at hand, as well as a means of raising the alarm if necessary in the event of an emergency. Workers should also be trained and familiarise themselves with the operation of this equipment, as trying to figure it out whilst a fire grows can waste precious time and quickly lead to a minor incident developing into a major one.
A fire does not have to start instantaneously, as the heat can cause a fire to ignite even after the work has finished. This means that checks need to be made long after the work has been completed to ensure no fires have started, rather than simply downing tools and going straight to the exit at the end of the day.
Hot workers can therefore describe two slightly different groups. On the one hand there are those who are affected by the changeable air temperature, whereas the other group are those whose job roles involves them working with/in/close to hot materials or environment.
Although different to one another, risks and hazards to health and well-being exist for both groups. For this reason, health and safety training, in conjunction with staff welfare provisions, are vital in order to keep employees happy, productive and attentive at all times. Doing so will also reduce the probability of accidents taking place.
Related Course: Permit to Work
A permit to work system is especially important for employees involved in particularly high risk job roles. It ensures that authority is given when hazardous work needs to take place, and serves to ensure that all of the components of a safe system of work are established before the particular high risk activity is begun.
As certain roles involving hot materials or environments certainly come under the high risk category in terms of potential danger to life, having a comprehensive and robust permit to work procedure in place is critical to safeguarding the health and well-being of your employees.