Working Safely in Heat
Working under the scorching Australian sun – not only it is unpleasant and exhausting, but it can also be very dangerous. Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs) have legal duties under the WHS laws to manage the risks of working in heat, and it is important to assess the risks of your workplace and ensure the safety of your workers. Even office workers can experience heat stress, for example when travelling between offices or sites.
Are Your Workers at Risk?
When working in hot weather, heat illness can occur when workers’ bodies cannot adequately cool themselves down. This is not only caused by high temperatures, but is also affected by humidity, the amount of air movement (indoors) or wind speed (outdoors), the type of clothing worn, the types of activities workers are engaged in, the working environment (e.g. the radiant temperature of surroundings, such as the sun, equipment, and rooves), and the age and fitness of workers.
The consequences of heat illness can include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, rashes, and exacerbation of pre-existing medical conditions. Some signs and symptoms of heat illness to keep an eye out for in your workers include:
· Feeling nauseous, dizzy, or weak
· Appearing clumsy or unstable, or having slower reaction times
· Clammy skin, headache, confusion, or slurred speech
· Reports of intense thirst, palpitations, or tingling/numbness in their extremities
· Having seizures or losing consciousness
If you notice any of these symptoms in your workers, please seek medical attention immediately.
There are also risks related to hot working conditions, including making errors or cutting corners due to heat fatigue, burns from contact with hot surfaces or substances, and loss of grip while handling tools and equipment due to sweaty hands.
Identifying the Risks in Your Workplace
The steps that Safe Work Australia recommend that workplaces take to assess risk are:
1. Identifying the hazard
This may involve talking to your workers, businesses similar to yours, and getting expert advice
2. Assessing the risk
A risk assessment involves identifying the impact of the hazard, and how likely the hazard is to cause harm
A risk assessment can help you determine how severe the risk is, whether existing control measures are effective, what action/s you should take to control the risk, and how urgently you need to take action
3. Controlling the risk
You must do everything that is reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks associated with working in heat by modifying the work and the working environment, and monitoring and supervising workers
4. Reviewing the control measures
It is important to review control measures once they are implemented to ensure that they are working as intended and do not introduce any new uncontrolled risks.