Working in the heat
With the arrival of summer, employees are reminded of the health and safety risks of working in extreme heat.
The human body sheds excess heat by sweating. Heat illness occurs when the body cannot sufficiently cool itself. Heat illness includes conditions such as heat stroke, fainting, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, rashes, heat fatigue and worsening of pre-existing illnesses and conditions.
Warning signs of heat illness
Warning signs of heat-related illness can include: dizziness, fatigue, muscle cramps, headache, nausea, dehydration, vomiting, breathlessness, clammy or ﬂushed skin.
If you or your co-workers experience these symptoms seek assistance immediately.
Employers are obliged to provide a working environment that is safe and without risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable.
It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure there is no risk to the health and safety of employees while working in extreme heat. However, employees also have a duty of care to look after each other and their customers.
There are several key risk factors that need to be considered when determining if there is a risk of heat illness to workers. These include:
- air temperature
- radiant heat of surroundings (from the sun or for example, grills and ovens in kitchens)
- amount of air movement or wind speed
- the nature of the work being done and duration
- physical fitness of the worker (including acclimatisation and any pre-existing conditions e.g. overweight, heart/circulatory diseases, skin diseases or use of certain medicines)
- clothing (including protective clothing such as overalls).
If a risk of heat illness is identified, control measures need to be put in place to either eliminate the risk or manage it so far as reasonably practicable. Employers should provide:
- information and training on recognising heat-related illness
- first aid equipment
- adequate supervision.
Avoiding heat related illness
There are numerous ways both employers and employees can eliminate or minimise extreme exposure to heat. A combination of these is recommended. They include:
- using fans, evaporative cooling or air conditioning symptoms
- limiting direct sunlight - if you have to be outside, ‘slip slop slap seek slide’
- rescheduling work so more physical tasks are performed during the cooler part of the day
- rotating staff - where reasonably practicable job rotation or slowing down of processes
- completing the work at a different location - e.g. if reasonably practicable working close to an air conditioner or fan
- using mechanical aids to reduce physical exertion
- providing extra rest breaks in a cool area
- wearing light and loose clothing - if working outdoors, employees should be provided with protection such as wide brim hat, loose-fitting, sunglasses and sunscreen. Employees required to wear an apron over a uniform can ask their employer if they can remove the apron.
- providing cool drinking water (and having frozen water ice blocks on hand).
During hot weather, WorkCover recommends workers “drink a cup of water (about 200 mL) every 15 to 20 minutes and not rely solely on soft drinks or caffeinated drinks”.
Tips for employees
It is a good idea to know:
- if your workplace has air conditioners, and if so, who to speak to in the event they break down
- if your employer has a plan for the workplace when the weather heats up
- where the first aid kits are located in your workplace and are they up-to-date
- what to do if customers are affected by the heat
- your rights if it gets too hot at work and you feel ill
- who your workplace health and safety representative is.
Your health and safety come first. If you feel your workplace is too hot to work in, check with your employer, SDA Delegate or health & safety team to find out if your company has a heat policy. You can also call the SDA Newcastle office on 1300 SDA HELP (1300 732 4357) for confidential advice.