Summer heat melts productivity in industrial buildings
By Megan Browning

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Sultry summer days might not be a big deal when there is a refreshing pool nearby, but unfortunately most workplaces don't provide this luxury. Industrial buildings aren't necessarily built for employee comfort, and the perils of summer heat can directly affect the productivity of workers — and the bottom line of businesses — if not properly addressed.
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Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards indicate temperatures of 100.4 degrees F and above are dangerous for workers, while air temperatures that exceed 95 degrees significantly increase the heat load on the body. Similarly, studies indicate an average 2 percent reduction in work performance per 1.8 degrees temperature rise when the temperature is above 77. While this may not seem detrimental on an individual basis, this drop in employee productivity can add up to huge profit loss across a company.

One simple solution to beating the summer heat is introducing proper air movement. Through mechanical means such as the installation of high-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans, the air in a space is turned over several times per hour, ensuring good air distribution while consuming very little energy.

While air movement does not lower the temperature in the space, it creates a cooling sensation as the breeze passes over the skin, making a person feel up to 10 degrees cooler. Gentle, nondisruptive airflow from HVLS fans promotes the body's natural cooling process, helping to maintain comfort in hot and humid conditions.

To understand the effects of air movement, consider the following: Imagine a warehouse that averages a temperature of 85 degrees during the four months of summer. At 85 degrees, each employee loses 8.8 percent of his or her productivity — if the company has 30 full-time employees each making $15 per hour, the business will lose $1,500 in lost productivity per week. The total loss in productivity per summer is then approximately $27,000 (not including the costs of inefficient cooling and worker comp claims due to heat stress).

If efficient, effective air movement is incorporated into the space, the warehouse will feel at least five degrees cooler — allowing the company to recover about two-thirds of the productivity that was lost without the introduction of gentle air movement.

Case in point

Century Metals & Supplies Inc. cuts, machines and distributes metals throughout the eastern United States, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and South America at its 60,000 square-foot facility in Miami Gardens, Fla. The nonconditioned warehouse presented unbearable conditions during hot summer months leading employees to focus more on complaining than working. Stationary floor fans were sporadically placed throughout the facility in hopes of solving the problem, but these proved to be unsuccessful.

"Our employees continuously complained about the heat and the excessive amount of sweating that occurred while working," explained Julie De Leon, human resource officer at Century Metals. "We have two windows in the warehouse, but they aren't big enough to bring in a noticeable amount of air."

In search of a solution, Century Metals installed three 24-foot diameter HVLS fans in its packaging and processing areas to create adequate air movement. These fans use their massive size, not speed, to evenly distribute air throughout large spaces to keep buildings cool and comfortable for employees. They also improve a building's energy efficiency and can replace numerous floor fans to improve employee safety.

Century Metals employees immediately noticed a difference. Leon noted, "Our fans work great; it's truly amazing the strength they have and the amount of air they move. You can really feel it when you walk into the area because the air spreads all over. We no longer have complaints from our employees."

Megan Browning is a writer for Big Ass Fans, a designer and manufacturer of large-diameter, low-speed fans.