Be smart in extreme weather conditions to optimize work performance, safety and health
By Keith Jackson
So here you are, another steaming, 100-percent humidity, July afternoon in the hangar. Your clothes are soaked through. The drinking fountain is busted. You’ve got an annual inspection on a Cessna 172 due out yesterday, and that co-worker — the big guy who’s turning the color of a ripe tomato — is shuffling by again, mumbling how "It’s hotter than the hubs of you-know-where" in this place. As if you need to be reminded.
Most aircraft technicians have dealt with heat stress at one time or another. But, braving the elements is just part of the business — grit your teeth and bear down because you’re powerless to change it, right? With the right amount of knowledge and preparation, the dog days don’t have to be quite so miserable.
Richard Dresser of Dresser Safety Management of Deerfield, Illinois, is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and cites 6 major causes of heat stress:
3. Movement of air
4. Radiant temperature of surroundings
5. Amount and type of
6. Physical activity
Without looking specifically at each, we can say that these factors should be given equal consideration for two main reasons.
First are the potential effects on health and worker morale. People can’t produce at peak levels in miserable heat; workers are less likely to meet deadlines, more likely to miss work completely, and are even put in physical danger. In fact, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) states that workers should not be permitted to work when deep body temperature exceeds 100.4 degrees F. Likewise, dehydration and mineral loss as a result of heat stress can make it hard to focus, cause muscle memory loss, slow reaction time, drain your energy, cause heat exhaustion, heatstroke or heart failure, or aggravate existing medical conditions and illnesses, like high blood pressure or heart disease. Heat stress can also interact with or aggravate the effects of other workplace hazards, like noise or exposure to toxic substances. The Southeast Michigan Coalition on Occupational Safety and Health notes that heat stress may aggravate the effect of other toxins like carbon monoxide (which reduces oxygen supply to the tissues) because of increased strain on the circulatory system. Check the HAZMAT exposure and handling guidelines and adjust them down in hot weather.
Second is the unfortunate byproduct of this havoc being wrought on your body: the increased potential for personal injuries and maintenance errors due to inability to focus on the task. Attention to detail becomes next to impossible when your brain is baking like a potato soufflé. How do you stay sharp when all systems are being taxed to the limit?
The reality is that the stakes are especially high for the aircraft technician, who must focus all of his or her energies on productivity and safety — that of the passengers, and their own — in what are often nearly unbearable conditions.
Monitor that mercury
The first step in protecting yourself on a hot day is knowing exactly what level of dangerous conditions exist. The most important figure here is the apparent temperature, or how it feels outside when the combination of heat and humidity are considered. For instance, a temperature of 95 degrees F with humidity at 75 percent produces an apparent temperature of 130 degrees F. This is in the extreme danger range. And, according to NASA Report CR-1205-1 on heat stress, an in-plant temperature of 95 degrees F results in a 45-percent loss in work output, and a 700 percent loss in accuracy!
Technicians and management alike should use these guidelines to determine what steps must be taken. As temperature and humidity go up, expect safety risks to increase and productivity levels to go way down.
Cause for Concern Condition/ Symptoms First Aid
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