WorkSafe WA recently issued a warning about the effects of extreme temperatures in work environments during periods of hot weather.
Employers and workers need to take extra care during the summer months to avoid the risk of heat stress or the more serious heat stroke, said WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh.
“It’s not just working outside in heatwave conditions, but also exposure to constant high temperatures in indoor workplaces like foundries that can result in heat stress or even heat stroke,” Kavanagh said.
“Workplace safety laws require an employer to ensure workers are not exposed to hazards and this includes, as far as is practicable, protecting employees from extremes in temperature.”
He said 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.
“Apart from the obvious physical discomfort of these symptoms, they may increase the risk of workplace injuries by taking a worker’s attention away from the task at hand, and this is a major concern,” said Kavanagh.
Workers in extremely hot environments can lose up to a litre of fluid every hour, and it is vital that this lost fluid is replaced.
Heat stress can be avoided by taking simple steps such as drinking cool clean water at frequent intervals, having rest pauses in a cool place and helping sweat evaporate by increasing air circulation.
Where possible, it is also advisable to reorganise work schedules so outdoor tasks are carried out early in the morning and late in the day to avoid peak temperatures.
The type of clothing worn is also very important – loose clothing allows air to circulate, improving the evaporation of sweat.
Heat stroke is a far more serious condition that must be treated immediately, according to Kavanagh, who said the signs of heat stroke are cessation in sweating, high body temperature and hot and dry skin.
Confusion and loss of consciousness may occur, and if heat stroke is suspected, the person should be treated by a doctor as soon as possible.
Until medical treatment is available, the person should be cooled down as quickly as possible by methods such as soaking clothing in cold water and increasing air movement by fanning.
“The effects of extreme or sustained heat can seriously affect a worker’s concentration levels, and the consequences can be very serious,” Kavanagh said.
“Guarding against heat stress and heat stroke is part of providing a safe and healthy workplace, and I urge employers to ensure that preventative measures are in place.”
WorkSafe Victoria also urged employers in the north of the state to protect workers in prolonged extreme heat.
WorkSafe Victoria’s executive director of health and safety Julie Nielsen said employers needed to ensure tasks were managed safely.
“Working in hot conditions can easily result in workers becoming dehydrated and suffering heat stress,” Nielsen said.
“Serious cases of heat stress can result in serious brain injury and organ failure, so the risks should never be underestimated.
“It’s important to plan out the day and prioritise the workload. Some work may need to be rescheduled or modified to reduce exposure to the heat. It could be a simple plan to start and finish the day earlier.”
Nielsen said employers also needed to consider the impact of heat on workers performing indoor tasks.
“The temperature in a roof space, or next to a metal wall can be significantly higher than an outdoor area, which mean workers can face an even greater risk of heat stress and fatigue,” Nielsen said.
“Fatigue can result in exceptionally dangerous situations, particularly when people are operating machinery or vehicles, or driving home after work.”