Regulators issue safety warning on heat stress at work

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Thursday, 7 January, 2021 - 12:15
Industry news
National News

Safe Work Australia and other regulators around the country recently issued a warning about the hazards of working in heat and in air pollution.

This time last year, parts of Australia were badly affected by extreme heat and bushfires, and working in heat and/or in air pollution can be hazardous and can cause harm to workers in both indoor and outdoor work environments.

Safe Work Australia said employers must take precautions this summer and know the risks of working in heat and/or air pollution and protect worker health and safety.

Over the 10 years from 2009-10 to 2018-19, there were 1774 workers’ compensation claims resulting from working in heat.

Of these claims, 1679 were from working in the sun, 940 of these claims were cancer-related, 441 of these were claims regarding heat stroke or heat stress and 95 were from working in hot indoor conditions.

WorkSafe WA also said it is important for employers to guard against the effects of extreme temperatures.

Employers and workers need to take extra care during the summer months to avoid the risk of heat stress or more serious heatstroke, said WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh.

“This warning goes out not only to outdoor workers, but also to employees that may be exposed to constant high temperatures that can result in heat stress or even heat stroke in indoor workplaces like foundries,” Kavanagh said.

“Workplace safety laws require employers to ensure that workers are not exposed to hazards and this includes, as far as is practicable, protecting employees from extremes in temperature.

“The increased sweating caused by heat depletes the body’s fluids and can lead to the symptoms of heat stress – tiredness, irritability, inattention and muscular cramps.

“These symptoms don’t just cause physical discomfort, they may also increase the risk of workplace injuries by taking a worker’s attention away from the task at hand, and this is a major concern.”