While the aluminum industry can generally be a safe place to work, there are occupational hazards that employees need to be aware of and actively guard themselves against. It is important for safety managers to fully assess the workplace for the risk of potential short-term thermal hazards and design a safety program that fits their employees’ needs. When developing safety initiatives in the workplace, it is important to consider incorporating arc rated (AR) and flame resistant (FR) primary and secondary personal protective equipment (PPE) to help mitigate injury should an incident occur.
Let’s look into some hazards that the aluminum industry faces and how to help protect against them.
- Molten splash: Occurring when hot liquid metal comes into contact with moisture, which can cause a violent and dangerous explosion of molten metal, a molten splash can cause property and equipment damage as well as serious personal injuries. Utilizing primary PPE, like aluminized PPE, not only reflects radiant heat but sheds molten metal and is used for short term tasks that likely include exposures to molten aluminum. Secondary FR clothing, designed for continuous wear, that also has the ability to shed smaller quantities of molten metal is helpful in preventing injuries due to unexpected molten splash. When paired with eye and face protection, garments made with Westex Vinex® can help protect against aluminum splash. A good rule of thumb to follow is to specify an FR fabric that has been splash tested to shed the expected exposure amount of the molten Aluminum alloy in question. Usually, heavier-weight fabrics have the ability to shed more liquid metal than lighter-weight fabrics and as part of the hazard assessment and PPE selection process, a splash test of various fabric weights should be conducted
- Combustible dust: Dust combustion happens when dust particles dispersed in the air are either ignited or are heated up until they burn, which is also known as deflagration. These particles can be organic materials or metal dusts, and can be extremely dangerous. One of the best ways to mitigate burn injury in the event of a combustible dust deflagration or flash fire is to wear AR/FR garments at all times when on the job site. Requiring employees to wear AR/FR daily wear even when they are not in direct contact with potential thermal hazard sources could help to reduce the risk of injury on the job site should an unpredictable, moving deflagration incident occur. With technology advancements, there are AR/FR daily wear options that have the look and feel of streetwear so employees can feel comfortable while also being protected against potential thermal hazards.
- Heat stress: Heat stress can occur when a worker is in a hot environment, wearing heavy, multi-layer clothing, performing labor-intensive tasks, or a combination of the three. When working in an environment that has any of these factors, employees could be prone to developing heat stress. It is best to follow the protocol of water, rest, and shade to help prevent overheating on the job site. In addition, having lightweight, breathable base layers are helpful in keeping workers cooler, drier, and more comfortable throughout the workday. Learn more about how clothing can help mitigate the impacts of heat stress in the workplace.
No matter the industry, it is important to conduct a proper risk assessment to determine the type and level of protection necessary to help best protect your workers from thermal exposure hazards found at your job site. Additionally, making sure employees wear the proper PPE for the task at hand is instrumental in helping to protect against potential injury.