HVLS Fans: How Air Quality Impacts Workplace Health & Your Bottom Line
Jeff Chastain, Hunter Industrial Senior Vice President & General Manager
Do you have a high-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fan in your facility? If so, you are already a step ahead of the game. However, the question you now need to ask yourself is: Have you chosen the right fan for your facility?
For those who have not yet ventured into the realm of HVLS solutions; you’re not alone. The industrial fan industry, as a whole, is less than 20 years old. Awareness has increased, because industrial fans provide cost-effective and energy-efficient solutions to major workplace environmental and quality-control challenges in a variety of industries. Whether you work in a dairy farm or a manufacturing facility, a brewery or a distribution center, HVLS fans are being recognized as effective tools in managing indoor air quality.
While there are a number of conventional options you can turn to––ranging from HVAC units and high-speed floor fans to swamp coolers––these traditional options often fail to provide comprehensive solutions. Conversely, HVLS fans are able to mobilize and de-stratify large volumes of air in a way that truly “clears the air” of any facility. This enables HVAC systems to operate more efficiently, while optimizing employee comfort and health in unconditioned environments.
The Importance of Air Quality
Why is it important to manage indoor air quality in the first place? The term “indoor air quality” refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, particularly as it relates to the health and comfort the building’s occupants. Poor air quality can include an excess of hot or cold air, indoor pollutants and stagnant air, which can cause labored breathing and illness in employees, while also posing product quality control risks, such as spoilage. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported, as part of their heat safety campaign, that dozens of employee fatalities occur each year, with thousands more workers falling ill due to working in extreme heat or humid conditions.
With proper air circulation, such air quality concerns can be eliminated. HVLS installations are particularly adept in this area due to their ability to move large volumes of air with minimal energy. By consistently providing large-scale airflow, HVLS fans regulate a facility’s temperature, while preventing stagnant air and a dust-riddled environment.
High air turns also eliminate toxic airborne chemicals at a rapid pace. In addition to pollutants, HVLS fans can also control a facility’s moisture; specifically where it relates to condensation, which can form on the floor in between two different climate-controlled environments and present a significant safety hazard. Proper indoor air movement quickly dries this condensation to reduce fall risks, as well as pollutants and bacteria associated with unchecked moisture.
Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for eliminating these known safety hazards. This makes investments in environment-regulating solutions like HVLS fans not only a benefit, but also a mandate in professional settings.
One customer in the Southeast found themselves in this very scenario. The customer relied on pedestal fans to keep their workforce cool in their 55 x 100ft, un-air-conditioned warehouse during the brutal Tennessee summer. They found that the floor fans only provided relief to employees working within the fans’ immediate vicinity. The facility’s overall temperature continued to rise. As a result, a facility manager fell sick from the heat and was not able to return to work. The facility itself was forced to close its doors during the hottest portion of the summer, preventing them from serving the community during this time.
Considering these challenges, we installed two 14ft HVLS fans that generated a consistent breeze throughout the warehouse. The company’s managers and team members took immediate notice of the differences in temperature. Since then, the warehouse has remained open all year long, with an uninterrupted rate of productivity. Moreover, workers say the warehouse can actually be a more enjoyable environment than other air-conditioned sectors of the facility.
Improving Workplace Health + Bottom Line
This experience has been replicated across industries. As facilities adopt HVLS systems, it translates into healthier, more comfortable work environments, which lead to reduced employee complaints and absentee days. It also boosts overall productivity.
A 2014 study by the Indian Statistical Institute, entitled “The Impact of Temperature on Productivity and Labor Supply: Evidence from Indian Manufacturing,” showed labor productivity decreases in high-temperature environments, with productivity reducing 3% per increase in one degree Celsius. The study also stated that “sustained heat may reduce worker attendance.”
With this in mind, Hunter fans worked with a remanufacturing and logistics company who was able to improve workforce conditions and productivity levels after installing seven 24ft HVLS fans in their un-air-conditioned 300,000 sq ft warehouse with 36ft ceilings. Their previous cooling methods included pedestal and barrel fans, which proved ineffective in cooling down the entire workforce. This was coupled with the inconvenience of papers and mechanical parts blowing around because of the fans’ sporadic air movement.
The company had also experimented with swamp coolers, but the resulting maintenance proved to be a headache. In the end, HVLS fans were able to provide increased workplace comfort across the seasons. They ran the fans 24/7 to prevent the buildup of stagnant air and heat.
In the words of the company’s Vice President of Supply Chain, “[HVLS] fans provide uniform comfort year-round for our nearly 230 employees, which has in turn increased worker productivity. After moving to our new facility and installing these industrial fans, we’ve received no employee complaints related to workplace comfort…They are essential in creating an optimal, healthy environment in our facility, from ceiling to floor.”
In another instance, the Hunter team partnered with a leading global supply chain operator to provide an HVLS solution that would be low impact, in terms of energy and cost, but high impact in performance. The team installed more than 20 HVLS fans across the company’s facilities, and the company noted improvements in air quality and employee comfort and satisfaction. One manager stated, “Establishing a comfortable environment in our facilities is a must, and air quality and control plays a large part in that.” He also added, “A leading ROI has been straight up employee satisfaction with having a comfortable and healthy work environment…we’ve gained back the value invested in the fans both in the short-term and long-term.”
HVLS Fans vs. Conventional Options
After discussing the need for and benefit of HVLS installations, it may still leave the question–what really sets HVLS fans apart from conventional options?
Not all fans are created equal. Some of the key differentiators between an HVLS fan vs. traditional high-speed fan options are the reduced noise; minimized energy consumption per sq ft; and the cost savings of about $1 per day to operate. In addition, HVLS fans’ cordless design allows for a safer working environment, eliminating trip hazards––an important factor considering many plant and facility managers identify cords as one of the top workplace hazards.
In fact, the overall direct interaction between an employee and a fan is virtually eliminated with many HVLS models. This feature is compounded by the maintenance-free aspect of those HVLS fans with direct drive motors, which also eliminate the risk of oil leaks and preventative maintenance posed by traditional gearbox motors.
Some HVLS fan models automatically switch off when a facility’s sprinkler system turns on, to allow the system to operate as designed. But the primary distinguishers come down to enhanced coverage area and efficiency, effectively creating a 10-12-degree perceived temperature difference in the warmer summer months. Equally as important during the winter months, a quality HVLS solution will continually push warm air trapped at the ceiling level back down to the floor––evenly distributing warm air and allowing HVAC systems to work more efficiently. This can save up to 30% on heating costs.
Investing in a Comprehensive Solution
Considering all these factors, HLVS fans are emerging as a comprehensive solution to improve energy savings, cost savings and workforce health and safety conditions across the board and across industries. Regardless of the industry, a company’s success is ultimately built off of the safety and health of its workforce. Safety is proven to be linked to the air employees breathe.
The importance of a facility’s air circulation and air management can’t be underestimated. Investments in the right HVLS solution for your facility can make radical transformations in a company’s wellness standards, while boosting its bottom line. WMHS
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