The reasons for employing humidity control for power plants extend beyond corrosion prevention. It’s vital for protecting the plant’s most vital assets: its workers. Operations within a plant involve radiant heat sources, high humidity, strenuous activities and protective clothing that could cause serious heat-related illnesses (e.g., heat rash, cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke) or even death. While the ideal temperature for workers varies by individual, the acceptable range for ensuring employee health is narrow.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have a specific standard regarding employees in hot environments. However, it did provide guidance for preventing heat-related illnesses using the heat index created by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The index combines relative humidity levels and air temperatures to create a single value that specifies how hot it really feels at a given relative humidity level. For example, when the ambient temperature is 88°F with a 40 percent humidity level, the heat index is 88°F. If the relative humidity level increases to 65 percent, the heat index rises to 98°F. The higher the heat index, the hotter the ambient conditions feel. It is important to note that working in full sunshine increases the heat by 15°F. Also, the index does not take into account the heat the body generates while it’s active or while wearing protective clothing.
At a heat index of 91°F or below, OSHA recommends taking basic heat safety precautions. At 91°F to 103°F, workers are at moderate risk of developing heat-related illnesses if the proper protection measures aren’t in place. When the heat index is at or above 103°F, workers are at a high risk of developing heat-related illnesses. Keep in mind that the ambient temperature doesn’t need to be 103°F for it to feel this hot. An environment will reach the 103°F heat index when the ambient temperature is 86°F and relative humidity levels are above 85 percent.
Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses in Power Plant Workers
Just as a plant has a disaster preparedness and response plan, it should also have a plan for taking protective measures based on the heat index risk level. This plan includes:
- Having adequate supplies: Supplies include having enough drinking water for workers, rest areas where employees can cool off, sunscreen, protective clothing and other equipment that helps prevent heat-related illnesses. It might also be appropriate to implement temporary humidity control solutions.
- Emergency response: When emergency medical services are not available within 3 to 4 minutes, personnel should have first aid training that includes responding to heat-related illnesses.
- Worker training: Teach workers preventive measures to take to mitigate the development of heat-related illnesses. They should also learn how to recognize symptoms of heat-related illnesses in others (e.g., profuse sweating, dizziness and nausea), as individuals don’t often recognize their own signs and symptoms.
- Worker acclimatization: New and returning workers are the most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. These workers should have lighter workloads with more frequent breaks as they adjust to the warm conditions.
- Work schedule modifications: When the heat index poses a high risk of heat-related illnesses, adjust employee schedules so the work isn’t as strenuous. This could mean giving employees breaks more often to allow them to cool down or scheduling strenuous activities for the evening hours.
- Worker monitoring: Supervisors should be familiar with the heat index, alert workers to the anticipated heat index daily, and take measures to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses. This includes ensuring there is sufficient drinking water, reminding workers to stay hydrated, knowing the signs of heat-related illnesses, and taking added precautions when conditions are warm.
When employees work outdoors during the summer or equipment causes areas to reach high temperatures, Polygon’s humidity control for power plants can create the optimal environments that workers need. Our solutions simultaneously create the ideal ambient conditions for preventing corrosion and protecting surface coatings. Power plants can use the solutions throughout the year or as temporary measures during the warmer months. Get in touch with Polygon to learn more about using humidity control solutions to protect employee health.
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