Heat Stress and the Aircraft Maintenance Industry:
General guidelines for preventing heat stress
By Justin Bruursema
Heat stress is a serious workplace hazard for millions of workers across the nation. The dangers of heat stress include rashes, fainting, exhaustion, and even death. On average, excessive heat exposure causes 34 worker deaths and 2,420 occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work per year, according to 2002 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported that five of the workers died from heat-related injuries during a single 14-day period between late July and early August of 2000. This brief article aims to help employees understand the risks associated with heat stress and best safety practices to avoid suffering from adverse effects of heat.
Workers in the aircraft maintenance sector are particularly at risk given their regular exposure to high temperatures, heated metals, and over-heated confined spaces. Additionally, high temperatures can hamper the precision required for many aircraft maintenance tasks.
Heat also presents many secondary hazards. We all know from experience that too much heat makes us irritable, uncomfortable, and less alert. Accidents can also occur due to the slipperiness of sweaty palms, dizziness, or fogging safety glasses. The potential for burns from accidental contact with hot surfaces is also a possibility.
Proper safety training on heat stress and its associated hazards is vital for the health and well-being of workers. It is good business as well as a humane approach to be sure employees are alert to the warning signals their bodies issue under heat stress and are prepared to respond for their personal health and safety - and that of their co-workers, as well.
Heat stress: Risk factors
The central factors that contribute to heat stress are temperature, humidity, air movement, physical activity, clothing worn, and the radiant temperature of the surroundings. Temperature alone seldom causes heat stress. Hazardous situations are usually caused by a combination of factors.
When heat is combined with other stresses such as hard physical labor, loss of fluids, or fatigue, the potential for heat stress increases. You do not need to be in a tropical climate or a hot desert to suffer the effects of heat stress. Heat stress disorders can occur in boiler rooms, confined spaces, during HAZMAT rescue operations, and in many other work situations.
Situations involving aircraft maintenance present their own unique heat stress risks. Aluminum and other sheet metals and alloys used for aircraft bodies, wings, and other parts are easily heated by the sun and or high air temperatures. Often aircraft maintenance requires entry into tight and confined spaces where temperatures can be significantly higher than normal working conditions.
Anyone can suffer from heat stress. Many workers assume that because they are young and in good physical shape that they are immune to heat stress. While some people are at a greater risk of developing symptoms than others, anyone could become a victim of heat illness if environmental conditions overwhelm your body's ability to regulate its temperature.
Your body is constantly working to maintain a normal internal temperature of about 98.6 F. But when heat causes your temperature to rise faster than your body can cool itself off, you can become vulnerable to heat stress. Heat stress is any condition caused when environmental conditions overwhelm your body's temperature regulating abilities. Your body can't cool itself off fast enough - causing you to overheat.
Heat stress: Effects on the body
To understand how heat stress occurs, let's look at how the body regulates its temperature. The human body continuously works to maintain its core temperature at 98.6 F (37 C). The body compensates for small upward or downward changes in temperature by activating its built-in thermoregulatory system, controlled by temperature sensors in the skin. When the body is hot it has to get rid of excess heat. It does this in two ways: increasing blood circulation and sweating.
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