Employees at food processing plants, poultry plants, and packinghouses face a variety of heat-related hazards on the job, raising their risk for serious injuries or death. Food processing workers often operate machinery, work near radiant heat sources, and perform hard physical labor in extreme heat during the manufacture or processing of various food products.
Exposure to Heat in Food Plants
Employees in food processing plants are exposed to heat from numerous sources in the workplace, including:
- Food processing cookers
- Beef and poultry rendering cookers
- Steam vacuums
- Carcass washes and hot water scalders
Workers in the food processing industry are often directly exposed to the heat coming off these sources. The significant heat and humidity food processing equipment puts off raises the overall temperature of the air in the work environment, putting workers at risk for developing heat-related occupational illnesses.
Potential Occupational Heat-Related Illnesses
Food plant workers may experience heat stress due to prolonged exposure to heat in the workplace. As a result, they may develop heat-related occupational illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Workers suffering from heat exhaustion may experience symptoms such as confusion, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, and rapid heartbeats. Due to heatstroke, workers may suffer the symptoms experienced as a result of heat exhaustion, and they may also have shortness of breath, increased body temperatures, delirium or loss of consciousness, or convulsions. Left untreated, heat stroke could result in heart, brain, kidney, or muscle damage; and, in some cases, could be fatal.
Keeping Workers Safe
While the temperatures may remain high in their working environments, there are things food processing employers and workers can do to help avoid occupational heat sicknesses. In addition to using insulation to reduce radiant heat and dehumidifiers to cut down on the humidity, food processing operators may use air conditioning and fans to help reduce the air temperature and increase air movement. They should also conduct training for management and employees on the warning signs of heat stress, as well as allow for frequent rest breaks.
To help avoid heat-related illnesses, it is important for workers to stay hydrated and to replace the water and salts they lose through sweating. They should take advantage of any breaks provided by their employers to cool off, as well as drink plenty of water and sports drinks during and after working hours.