Overheated Factories, Overheated Workers With AM-Drought-Heat, Bjt
DETROIT (AP) _ Few factories are air conditioned, and when it’s hot outside, it’s even hotter inside, leaving workers unaccustomed to high temperatures vulnerable to heat stress or stroke.
″Heat stress is a very well-documented medical condition, governed by temperature, humidity and the rate of work someone is doing,″ Diane Factor, industrial hygienist in the AFL-CIO’s Washington, D.C., occupational safety, health and Social Security office, said Thursday.
″The heat can surpass the threshold of what your body can handle,″ Factor said.
The danger of heat stress and ensuing heat stroke is greatest in factories where heat is not a normal part of working conditions, said Frank Mirer, director of the UAW’s health and safety department.
In factories such as foundries and steel mills, where workers and machines handle molten metal, workers’ bodies are used to the temperatures and work rules help by providing more breaks and relief workers, Mirer said.
Where it’s not normally hot and humid, workers can become overheated as their bodies try to discharge heat into uncooled air. Headaches, nausea, heat cramps, fatigue can mean heat stress, Mirer said.
″If the symptoms are being experienced, they have to be rapidly reported to the medical department and action taken,″ he said. Workers can get ″heat passes″ - medical passes allowing them to leave hot areas.
″People who are not acclimated to the hot environment are at greatest risk,″ he said. ″If you don’t consume sufficient fluids during the day you lose your acclimatization, suffer great heat stress and greater risk of heat stroke.″
During the heat wave that baked much of the nation this week, temperatures in unair-conditioned factories such as auto assembly and metal stamping plants climbed well into the 100s, union officials said.
Workers tried to keep cool by soaking towels in ice water, drinking free beverages and spending their breaks in airconditioned cafeterias.
″It’s unbearable in that plant. I don’t have enough fans in my building,″ said Maurice Mitchell, an official of United Auto Workers Local 1264 at Chrysler Corp.’s 4,000-worker stamping plant in Sterling Heights.
Mitchell said the mercury climbed above 110 in the plant on Wednesday. He blamed the heat on a lack of outside air. The plant’s windows are sealed to keep out cold and the union has to bargain with management for fans.
At another Chrysler factory, in Fenton, Mo., workers blamed the death of a 54-year-old paint shop worker Wednesday on extreme high temperatures, but an autopsy found the man died of a heart attack caused by diseased arteries.
Several hundred workers in the paint shops of that plant and an adjoining Chrysler factory walked off the job on Wednesday and again on Thursday, complaining of temperatures as high as 110 degrees.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has no regulations governing heat in the workplace, Factor said.
The AFL-CIO wants standards that would require air-conditioning or other engineering means of cooling the workplace, as well as rules that require longer, more frequent breaks away from hot areas and machinery and switching of work shifts from the hottest parts of the day, Factor said.
″Heat stress is a preventable occurrence,″ she said.
But it is difficult to define dangerous heat, Mirer said.
″There is disagreement as to how to measure heat properly and what’s a safe level of exposure. You want a formula that takes into account humidity, air movement, radiant heat as well as the dry bulb temperature,″ he said.
Another difficulty is that dangerous heat levels may be well above comfortable working conditions, and the union doesn’t want standards established that leave workers in discomfort, if not danger, he said.