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Keeping Employees Safe and Productive in the Heat

Emily Wingate, Contributor

heat safetyGreg Olson is the Heavy Machine Shop Supervisor at Washington Iron Works located in Sherman, Texas. As a supervisor of a 12-man crew working on everything from crankshaft services to engine overhauls for oil and gas customers, he knows attention to detail is important. However, when Texas temperatures are pushing 90 degrees in the shade and the sun is beating down on the metal shop, concentrating on details can be tough.

The heavy machine shop is one of Sherman, Texas’ oldest buildings, which was built in the late 1800s. It is a massive metal building without much insulation and, in the summer, it cooks. Getting air conditioning installed wouldn’t be too practical, given how open it is, the height of the ceiling and how often the outside doors to the shop must be opened. Knowing A/C wasn’t an option, they tried shop fans. They blew a decent amount of air, but didn’t really cut it, because they just blew hot air around.

Greg had seen evaporative coolers, but he wasn’t sure his bosses would go for the idea, because they use water—and any humidity could rust their key components. Corrosion in the shop can’t be tolerated. Since you can use evaporative coolers with the shop doors open, he started telling management they should give it a try. To say they were hesitant is an understatement. Water equaled rust to them–period.

At the time though, the heat was unbearable and made it harder for Greg’s guys to stay focused and productive–not to mention safe–with sweat and exhaustion from the hot conditions.

Greg finally suggested that they ask a local distributor to bring one of the new Portacool portable evaporative coolers up to the shop; show them how to work it; and let them test it out. To their amazement, they found they absolutely could get cold air in the shop from an evaporative cooler without putting rust-building humidity out. The guys that demoed the product helped them understand that these evaporative coolers came with a water-control valve that can be used to turn-down the amount of water running over the evaporative media in the back of the cooler. Bingo! That was the trick to making sure they didn’t have any rust issues.

portacoolGreg notes it took some trial-and-error with the evaporative cooler. They used it the first couple of days and realized they had too much water running, so they kept adjusting the water flow until they found the exact setting that worked for their shop. It kept them cool, and they were not seeing any rust on their equipment.

Now, they run the coolers about 10-12 hours a day. They have placed them in two corners of the shop to help create a directional airflow and the third by the main outside shop doors. By doing this, they’ve gotten great circulation across the building. In fact, it has worked better than placing the cooler where it shoots cool air directly on one person or area.

And, again, they’ve had no issues with rust or corrosion. In fact, one of the evaporative coolers points directly at their metal assembly table and has caused no rust. Another runs right next to the ways for one of their lathes and has caused no rust there. So, their machinery is intact and rust-free.

Greg and his team are sold on the cooling power of evaporative coolers. They’ve made a huge difference in keeping the work environment comfortable, and the workers safe and productive. WMHS

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