What’s hotter than a desert in summer?
The surface of the sun? Hot coals? We might be exaggerating just a bit, but we all know the summer brings heat, heat, heat to Nevada. And with that heat, there must be extra safety precautions for people working in heated conditions.
Why is heat a hazard to workers?
When a person works in a hot environment, the body must get rid of excess heat to maintain a stable internal temperature. It does this mainly through circulating blood to the skin and through sweating.
When the air temperature is close to or warmer than normal body temperature, cooling of the body becomes more difficult. Blood circulated to the skin cannot lose its heat. Sweating then becomes the main way the body cools off. But sweating is effective only if the humidity level is low enough to allow evaporation, and if the fluids and salts that are lost are adequately replaced.
If the body cannot get rid of excess heat, it will store it. When this happens, the body’s core temperature rises and the heart rate increases. As the body continues to store heat, the person begins to lose concentration and has difficulty focusing on a task, may become irritable or sick, and often loses the desire to drink. The next stage is most often fainting and even death if the person is not cooled down.
What Personal Protective Equipment is effective in minimizing heat stress?
Reflective clothing, which can vary from aprons and jackets to suits that completely enclose the worker from neck to feet, can reduce the radiant heat reaching the worker.
However, since most reflective clothing does not allow air exchange through the garment, the reduction of radiant heat must more than offset the corresponding loss in evaporative cooling. For this reason, reflective clothing should be worn as loosely as possible. In situations where radiant heat is high, auxiliary cooling systems can be used under the reflective clothing.
Auxiliary body cooling ice vests, though heavy, may accommodate as many as 72 ice packets, which are usually filled with water. Carbon dioxide (dry ice) can also be used as a coolant. The cooling offered by ice packets lasts only 2 to 4 hours at moderate to heavy heat loads, and frequent replacement is necessary. However, ice vests do not tether the worker and thus permit maximum mobility. Cooling with ice is also relatively inexpensive.
Wetted clothing such as terry cloth coveralls or two-piece, whole-body cotton suits are another simple and inexpensive personal cooling technique. It is effective when reflective or other impermeable protective clothing is worn. This approach to auxiliary cooling can be quite effective under conditions of high temperature, good air flow, and low humidity.
Water-cooled garments range from a hood, which cools only the head, to vests and “long johns,” which offer partial or complete body cooling. Use of this equipment requires a battery-driven circulating pump, liquid-ice coolant, and a container.
Although this system has the advantage of allowing wearer mobility, the weight of the components limits the amount of ice that can be carried and thus reduces the effective use time. The heat transfer rate in liquid cooling systems may limit their use to low-activity jobs; even in such jobs, their service time is only about 20 minutes per pound of cooling ice. To keep outside heat from melting the ice, an outer insulating jacket should be an integral part of these systems.
Circulating air is the most highly effective, as well as the most complicated, personal cooling system. By directing compressed air around the body from a supplied air system, both evaporative and convective cooling are improved. The greatest advantage occurs when circulating air is used with impermeable garments or double cotton overalls.
One type, used when respiratory protection is also necessary, forces exhaust air from a supplied-air hood (“bubble hood”) around the neck and down inside an impermeable suit. The air then escapes through openings in the suit. Air can also be supplied directly to the suit without using a hood in three ways: by a single inlet, by a distribution tree, or by a perforated vest. In addition, a vortex tube can reduce the temperature of circulating air. The cooled air from this tube can be introduced either under the clothing or into a bubble hood. The use of a vortex tube separates the air stream into a hot and cold stream; these tubes also can be used to supply heat in cold climates. Circulating air, however, is noisy and requires a constant source of compressed air supplied through an attached air hose. This system tethers the worker and limits his or her mobility. Additionally, since the worker feels comfortable, he or she may not realize that it is important to drink liquids frequently.