With summer coming, have you checked your WHS around heat-related illness?
Working in hot and/or humid environments can cause heat-related illness and in some cases this can be fatal1. There is no recommended temperature limit at which work should cease.
Setting a safe or unsafe limit just based on the air temperature is not adequate due to the many variables associated with the onset of heat stress.
To be clear, as an employer your responsibilities include:
- ensuring workers carrying out tasks in hot conditions can do so without risk to their health and safety;
- considering ways to manage the risk –eg sheltered rest areas, additional breaks, working in the cooler part of the day and lots of freely available cool water;
- providing information, training and instruction to workers so they can recognise the early symptoms of heat-related illness, and know how to follow safe work procedures and immediately report problems.
|Risk factors to consider||Why this is important|
|Are ambient conditions hot?||This contributes to incidents such as heat-related illness and burns.|
|Are days and nights hotter than usual?||A heatwave can make it harder to sleep and workers may become fatigued.|
|Is it humid?||High humidity makes it harder for the body to cool itself.|
|When is work done?||Certain times of the day and year will be hotter.|
|How often can workers take breaks somewhere cool?||Working in heat for long periods of time is very dangerous.|
|Is there air movement or a breeze?||This can help cool workers.|
|Is the work intense or long?||The harder the body is working the more heat it needs to lose.|
|Are workers physically fit and acclimatised?||Fit and acclimatised workers generally have higher heat tolerances.|
|Do workers wear hot clothing (including PPE)?||Some clothing can prevent the evaporation of sweat or prevent air movement.|
|Are the workers qualified, trained and experienced?||Experienced workers may be more efficient and use less energy for the same work. They may also be more aware of the hazards, health effects and controls.|
|(If known) do workers have medical conditions?||Some conditions and medications can make workers less able to cope with heat.|
|Is there cool drinking water or electrolyte drinks on hand?||Dehydration can be dangerous and contributes to heat-related illness.|
A safe system of work should include a risk assessment of both the environmental conditions at the workplace and the physical well-being of workers, as well as ongoing monitoring and supervision in hot conditions, especially during very hot and humid weather.
The employer and workers should consult each other, and share information about managing health and safety and must give workers a reasonable opportunity to raise issues. Conduct a walk-through survey of the workplace, and talk with workers about heat stress issues. The risk and severity of heat related illness will vary widely among workers, even under identical heat stress conditions.
You can prevent heat stress by:
- modifying the work environment:
- Reduce radiant heat by insulating hot surfaces, clad or cover sources of radiant heat, and use radiant heat shields, or barriers.
- Increase air movement by installing exhaust or extraction fans to remove hot air, opening doors and windows, installing fans and artificial cooling such as evaporative coolers, air conditioning, vortex tubes, or chillers.
- Provide shade when working outdoors where practicable
- modifying the way work is carried out:
- Use mechanical aids such as cranes, forklifts and earthmoving plant to reduce the workload, conduct work at ground level to minimise climbing.
- Provide rest areas/shade as near to the work area as possible. You can use gazebos, insulated structures, or air-conditioned dongers.
- Use administrative controls could include scheduling of work to a cooler part of the day, additional rest intervals, constant water drops and monitoring workers
- Provide personal protective equipment. Options include wearing a hat, vented eyewear, and specialised cooled or conditioned personal protective clothing.
Check out Safe Work Australia for resources related to working in heat:
1Source: ABC News online 6/10/20