OHS regulators across the country recently issued reminders to employers and workers to manage risks associated with heat stress and solar UV.
“Last Summer, we nearly lost the life of a young worker to heat stress,” said SafeWork SA executive director Marie Boland.
“Employers can minimise the risk of heat by modifying workloads and schedules to avoid the hottest times of day, rotating or sharing ‘hot tasks’ as well as increasing rest breaks and making sure rest areas in shady or cool areas are available.
“Employers should also provide appropriate protective gear to minimise solar UV radiation exposure.”
Workers should wear loose fitting clothing covering their arms and legs, preferably made from a natural fibre, and drink cool water at regular breaks to stay hydrated.
If working indoors, minimising the impact of heat can be as simple as increasing air movement using fans and isolating workers from hot processes or items of plant.
“Heat stress symptoms include feeling dizzy, weak, clumsy or disorientated,” she said.
“If a worker’s feeling unwell they should rest in a cool area and drink cool fluids – water ideally – and if they do not recover quickly, seek prompt medical attention.”
Executive director of SafeWork NSW, Peter Dunphy, also said workers can get seriously injured and even die while working in the heat so businesses needed plans to prevent workers suffering heat stress or heat illness.
“Businesses and workers, particularly those working outdoors, should adopt a flexible and common sense approach to working in the heat today,” Dunphy said.
“Outdoor workers and those working in hot environments such as roof spaces or other confined areas are most at risk.
“By monitoring temperature, humidity, hydration and work activity, businesses can minimise the risks of heat stress and heat-related illness when working in hot and sunny conditions.”
SafeWork NSW has published a working in extreme heat video on its You Tube channel that provides tips for businesses and workers tips on how to work safely in heat.
WorkSafe WA commissioner Lex McCulloch also reminded employers and workers of the need to take extra care during the summer months to avoid the risk of heat stress or the more serious heat stroke.
“Both working outside in heatwave conditions and exposure to constant high temperatures in indoor workplaces such as foundries can result in heat stress or even heat stroke,” McCulloch said.
“Workplace safety laws require an employer to provide a working environment in which 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 tiredness, irritability, inattention and muscular cramps – these are the symptoms of heat stress.
“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.”
Head of Workplace Health and Safety Queensland Simon Blackwood also said employers need to plan ahead and protect workers from heat stress.
“I urge bosses to look after their staff this summer and use this basic thermal risk assessment tool when it comes to heat-related illness,” Blackwood said.
“Employers must provide their workers with heat and sun protection, as well as general sun safety tips. However, employees should also speak up if they are concerned that they’re working in an unsafe, hot environment.
“If you or your workmates are struggling in excessive heat or high humidity, don’t stall – talk to your supervisor immediately.
“Employers must ensure workers wear protective gear including a hat and sunscreen, take adequate breaks, seek shade and keep hydrated to prevent heat exhaustion, heat stroke, fainting and cramps.”
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’s Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice provides guidance for managing the risks associated with outdoor work.
WorkCover Queensland has made available a heat stress calculator that can be used as a basic guide or training tool to help identify and manage the risks of heat-related illness.