Businesses must do everything that is reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks to workers’ health and safety, including those associated with working in heat. This may include cancelling certain work tasks, rescheduling tasks to cooler parts of the day or waiting for hot conditions to pass. Managers and supervisors should regularly check on their workers to ensure they aren’t suffering from any heat-related symptoms and are keeping hydrated while working in heat.
Effects of working in heat
Working in heat can be hazardous and can cause harm to workers. The human body needs to maintain a body temperature of approximately 37 degrees Celsius. If the body has to work too hard to keep cool or starts to overheat a worker begins to suffer from heat-related illness.
A range of progressive heat related conditions are fainting, heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, etc –
- Heat rash – Skin can become irritated and cause discomfort when working in heat.
- Heat cramps – Muscles can cramp as a result of heavy sweating without replacing salt and electrolytes.
- Fainting- Can occur when workers stand or rise from a sitting position.
- Dehydration- Increased sweating can lead to dehydration if workers aren’t drinking enough water.
- Heat exhaustion – Occurs when the body is working too hard to stay cool.
- Heat stroke – Occurs when the body can no longer cool itself. This can be fatal.
- Burns – Can occur if a worker comes into contact with hot surfaces or tools.
- Slips – A worker will sweat more in hot conditions which can increase the risk of slips. For example, a worker might slip when using sharp tools if their hands are damp.
- Reduced concentration – When working in heat it is more difficult to concentrate and a worker may become confused. This means workers may be more likely to make mistakes, such as forgetting to guard machinery.
- Increased chemical uptake into the body – Heat can cause the body to absorb chemicals differently and can increase the side effects of some medications.
How can you manage risks?
The following steps should be taken, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure that workers and other people are not exposed to harm from working in heat.
- Identify the hazard
Heat is a hazard in many Australian workplaces, whether work is performed indoors or outdoors. To find out if it is a hazard in your workplace, consider:
- Air temperature
- Air flow
- Radiant heat sources
- Work requirements, and
- The workplace itself.
To help you identify hazards in your workplace you should talk to workers, including any health and safety representatives, and other duty holders. You can also talk to businesses similar to yours and find out whether heat is a hazard in that workplace, or to review near misses, incidents and injury records. This can help you identify risks in your workplace.
- Assess the risk
To assess the risk, you should consider:
- What is the impact of the hazard?
- How likely is the hazard to cause harm?
A risk assessment can help you determine:
- How severe the risk is?
- Whether existing control measures are effective?
- What action you should take to control the risk?
- How urgently you need to take action?
How hot a worker feels will be different in every situation, depending on the individual worker, the work they are doing and the environment in which they are working.
- Control the risk
You must do everything that is reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks associated with working in heat. This may include cancelling certain work tasks, rescheduling tasks to cooler parts of the day or waiting for hot conditions to pass.
If you cannot eliminate the risk, you must minimise it as much as reasonably practicable. Remember, heat that represents a hazard to workers may be generated by more than just weather conditions. You may find a combination of controls to be the most effective.
How to create a stress-free working environment?
- Install artificial cooling such as air-conditioning.
- Insulate buildings and clad sources of radiant heat.
- Make sure your workspace has good air flow. Install fans or generate air movement for example via windows and vents, particularly in humid conditions.
- Remove heated air or steam from hot processes using local exhaust ventilation.
- Provide air-conditioned, shaded or cool break areas as close as possible to the work site.
- Isolate hot machinery or surfaces by using shields, barriers and guards for example around a furnace.
- Insulate or enclose hot processes, surfaces or plant.
- Reduce radiant heat for example by allowing plant to cool down before use.
- Provide shade to reduce radiant heat from the sun.
- Provide accessible cool drinking water or when necessary electrolyte solutions.
- Provide information such as warning signs at the workplace to reinforce training
Heat stress in the workplace can occur as a result of many factors. Naturally direct exposure to the hot Australian sun is major factor but the workplace environment, the work undertaken and work practices are all important contributors as well. Working indoors or outdoors in intense heat can cause heat related illness and fatigue which can impair thinking and lead to injuries. Heat stress needs to be monitored and prevented as part of the overall safety management plan