03 Aug 2018

Are Record High Temperatures and Humidity Putting Your Plant and Workers at Risk?

Steel Mills worker
 

It’s July and the mercury is soaring. In many parts of the world, it’s hotter than it’s ever been before.

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So have you figured out how to control ambient temperatures in your plant? What will you do if humidity tips over spec requirements for your equipment? If these conditions cause products to get damaged while they’re still being made? If it gets so hot on the production floor that your team start to feel unwell? Have you figured out a game plan if the air conditioner goes down? If your conditions get out of hand? 

It’s a lot to think about, right? But don’t worry, a little hot weather doesn’t need to cause chaos. Here’s how to beat the heat and keep your plant running perfectly this summer.

What Happens When Things Heat Up?

When heat levels hit the danger zone, it’s common for large-scale manufacturing equipment to start struggling, especially if you’re a steel mill, a pulp or paper mill, or any other manufacturing plant that uses a lot of heat in the production process. At best, this slows production; at worst, the equipment grinds to a complete halt. For a product like paper, too much moisture in the air can also wreck this while it’s still being created, impacting on quality or even forcing you to throw it away en masse.

Then there are the safety considerations out on the factory floor. When working conditions get too hot and humid, people can’t work at their best. They’ll be uncomfortable, less effective, and they’ll need more breaks. If things get really bad, they could even start to suffer from heat exhaustion and heat stroke. In extreme cases, factory workers have died as a result.

Obviously, you would never want to expose your team to risks like these. Plus, if you don’t take care to stop the situation from getting to that point, you could find yourself on the wrong side of health and safety laws, too… and regulation violations can mean major fines for some manufacturers.

Have You Figured Out How to Stay Cool?

The good news is that, with the right approach, you can bring an overheating plant back into line fast. You also don’t need to spend a fortune on getting a permanent setup that you’ll only use a few times a year; you can simply rent equipment that pumps in cool, dry air for as long as you need it, and give it back when you don’t.

Exactly what kind of equipment you need to bring in depends, of course, on what you do and how you have things set up. As an example, though, let’s take a look at comfort cooling. 

What is Comfort Cooling?

Comfort cooling is all about making conditions comfortable enough for your team to work in when the ambient temperature starts to creep up. It’s essential for preventing heat exhaustion and fatigue, as well as getting people back to working at their best and most productive.

We touched on this above, but to elaborate a little: as well as taking your team’s needs and wellbeing into account, comfort cooling helps you avoid serious problems that emerge when you don’t address heat and humidity inside the plant. High ambient temperatures, kit that gives out a lot of heat and poor air circulation all impact on productivity. You run the risk of falling behind schedule or even triggering a complete shutdown.

Worse, workers can get injured - bad enough in itself, but a nightmare for you if you then get embroiled in legal battles over safety issues, or have to pay out compensation as a result. You could also get hefty fines from a regulator like the OSHA.  

To tackle this, you can use a combination of chillers, coolers, dehumidifiers and other systems designed to bring down temperatures, reduce moisture and keep air well circulated around the area. Depending on the layout of your plant and the availability of electricity, you may be able to power this from the site, or you may need to bring in some standalone generators, too.

Do You Have a Comfort Cooling Plan That’s Ready to Roll Out?

The earlier you identify potential problems, the faster and smoother the process will be when you come to instal your comfort cooling solution. 

If you suspect in advance that the summer months will pose a challenge, it’s well worth speaking to a company that rents out temporary utilities to figure out in advance exactly what you’ll need and how they’ll set this up. That way, they’re ready and waiting to load in comfort cooling the moment you need it, avoiding hold-ups and downtime.

It’s not just hot weather that requires comfort cooling, of course. When one of our customers, a steel mill, needed to conduct important maintenance on its blast furnace, the facility team realized they’d have to bring temperature inside the furnace right down first. This was essential so that maintenance workers could get inside and do what they needed to do safely and swiftly, avoiding safety risks and fines.

It would have taken far too long to wait for the furnace to cool down on its own, and they’d have no way to control conditions inside while work was underway. Instead, they called us, and we teamed up with blast furnace engineers to design and implement a cooling and ventilation setup that quickly reduced the temperature inside. This cut down the turnaround time, getting the plant back up to full speed much faster, while making sure the maintenance team had safe and comfortable conditions to work in.

Do You Know What to Do When Things Get Heated?

Sometimes a heatwave takes you by surprise. Sometimes a sudden surge in orders means you have to fire on all cylinders, increasing the temperature in your facility. There are plenty of reasons why temperatures or humidity might soar - and many of them are unpredictable. 

In these situations, you need to know you can call on someone who can swoop in and get conditions back to normal. What’s more, you need to know that they will be efficient enough that the process won’t drag down your productivity and will protect your bottom line!

So don’t take a risk - it’s not worth it. Make sure you partner with a company that has plenty of experience in providing comfort cooling of all kinds, in all kinds of situations, including at very short notice. When it comes to issues like keeping your workforce safe, staying on the right side of regulations, and avoiding costly meltdowns that could stop production for weeks or months, it pays to do it right. You don’t want to be putting out fires further down the line!

Speaking of not taking risks, download our latest safety tip about Personal Protective Equipment: 

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