Who is responsible for managing these heat risks?

As a person conducting business or undertaking it is your duty of care to keep your workers and workplaces safe from the risks posed by working in the heat. It is important for the human body to maintain a safe temperature to stay healthy. Heat-related illnesses occur when the body has to work too hard to keep itself cool or if it starts to overheat.

Although it is the primary duty of persons conducting a business to ensure their worker’s safety, workers also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and should be made aware of the risks of working outdoors in Australia as detailed below.

Active Tip: Make sure to not just drink water, but always be aware of replacing your salt and electrolytes.

Common Effects of Working in the Heat

  • Heat Reash – Leading to skin irritation and discomfort.
  • Heat Cramps – Resulting from heavy sweating without replacing salt and electrolytes.
  • Fainting – Particularly when workers stand or rise from a sitting or crouched position.
  • Dehydration – From increased sweating if workers aren’t drinking enough water.
  • Heat Stroke – This occurs when the body can no longer cool itself. This can be fatal.
  • Burns – Can occur if a worker comes in contact with hot surfaces or tools.
  • Slips – Sweating may lead to less grip and traction.
  • Reduced Concentration – Heat can make it difficult to concentrate, leading to confusion, which can be hazardous when using tools or heavy machinery.
  • Increased Chemical Uptake – This occurs when heat causes the body to absorb chemicals different and can increase the side effects of some medications.

Active Tip: Try to notice your sweat levels and use a towel. Slipping on sweat and incurring a fatal incident is more common than we think.

Checklist for Managing Heat – Provided by SafeWork Australia

Questions About Risk Why This is Important
Is the environment hot or is there a fire at the workplace? 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.
Do people work during the hot part of the day or year? Scheduling work at certain times can increase or decrease risk.
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 can generally tolerate heat better.
Do workers wear hot clothing (including PPE)? Some clothing can prevent air from circulating or sweat from evaporating.
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.
Do workers have medical conditions? Some conditions and medications can make workers less able to cope with the heat.
Is there cool drinking water or electrolyte drinks on hand? Dehydration can be dangerous and contributes to heat related illness.

How to Manage Heat Risks

The first thing an employer should do is identify the hazard or risk. Assess all areas of the workplace to determine what could go wrong or cause harm. We also recommend talking with workers and any health and safety representatives. This is sometimes a time-consuming process, especially for smaller businesses that do not have a dedicated WHS representative. Active OHS has WHS specialists with years of experience in the field who can carry out a comprehensive assessment of your workplace and know what risks to look out for.

Things an employer or WHS specialist will consider:

  • Air Temperature
  • Air Flow
  • Humidity
  • Radiant Heat Sources
  • Work Requirements
  • The Workers
  • The Workplace

The second step is assessing the risk. A risk assessment will determine how severe the risk is, whether existing measures are appropriate, what action should be taken and most importantly, how urgently to act. If you have contracted out to an Active WHS Specialist they will create a customised colour coded report that shows the need for action based on severity.

The third step is controlling the risk. Generally, an employer can do one of three things to control the risk

  1. Substitute the hazard with something safer.
  2. Isolate the hazard.
  3. Use engineering control measures.

If a risk can be completely removed from the workplace, this is the best-case scenario. This may mean automating an activity or simply not working on a particular day. When this is not possible, substitute a safer work practice or move to a cooler work environment. As an employer, you could set up shade tents, install air conditioning and do everything possible to make sure radiant heat and hot air are removed from the workplaces.

Administrative control measures can also be put in place and Active OHS is on deck to help out where necessary. These rely on human behaviour, supervision and training, a WHS and safety specialist can work with your business to train your workers to:

  • Identify and report hazards associated with heat and heat-related illness.
  • Understand how to prevent heat-related illness.
  • Recognise symptoms and signs of heat-related illness in themselves and others.
  • Call for assistance if necessary and look out for each other’s wellbeing.
  • Modify work intensity and take more breaks when working in the heat.
  • Drink sufficient water to stay hydrated.
  • Recognise the dangers of diuretic drinks.

Simple things, usually looked over, such as correct use of PPE, acclimatising workers to heat and hydration access are always worth repeat discussion and familiarisation. Using a WHS specialist you can get a professional risk assessment and then devise a management plan.

Active Tip: It may be useful to utilise a basic Heat Stress Calculator to determine if you need WHS assistance. WorkCover QLD has been kind enough to place one online.

Heat Stress Calculator

Also, note that previous case studies have shown us that when a WHS risk assessment is completed if there is no consultation with the workers it is not legally sound. Always make sure you have a qualified WHS specialist who is aware of this.