When you can’t take the heat
With summer approaching, it’s timely to consider the risks of heat and ways to manage them.
The significant risks associated with exposure to extreme heat was sadly made clear in a number of recent mining and exploration prosecutions where workers were injured or died as a result of exposure to sustained physical exertion and heat.
The risks of dehydration and fatigue not only affect those who work long periods in direct sun but also people working indoors or in confined spaces during heatwave periods.
When considering areas in which your workers might be exposed to these risks, it is important to consider a broad range of work environments. It may impact on workers operating machinery or vehicles with limited ventilation or no air-conditioning. Heat stroke and fatigue can also impact on workers travelling for significant periods of time or working for long durations in vehicles.
Safe Work Australia’s guide
Safe Work Australia has released updated guidance material on managing the risks of working in heat.
The Guide for managing the risks of working in heat now includes additions to the recommended first aid for heat stroke. The guidance for heat stroke is to immediately call an ambulance and then a number of first aid steps, including the addition of the following:
- If practicable and safe to do, immersion in a bath of cold water is the most effective means for cooling a person.
- Immerse the worker (whole-body from the neck down) in a bath of cold water (preferably 1–7˚) for 15 minutes. Continuously observe the worker to ensure an open airway in case of any change in their level of consciousness.
- If a cold bath is not available, or is not reasonably practicable or safe to use, use a combination of the following as available:
- cool the worker by splashing cool or cold water on their skin or sponging their skin with a damp cloth; and
- make a wind tunnel by suspending sheets around, not on, the worker’s body; and
- use a fan to direct gentle airflow over the worker’s body.
Click here to download the guide.
SafeWork NSW 4-step guide
If your workforce may be exposed to extreme heat, including bushfires, you should review the 4-step guide issued by SafeWork NSW to help workers stay safe from the effects of extreme heat, sun exposure, bushfires and smoke.
Click here for the guide.
Recommendations from safety regulators
Some of the areas where safety regulators recommend employers focus are the following:
- planning the day to prioritise strenuous work during the cooler periods of the day and less strenuous tasks in the warmer periods;
- ensuring there are additional rest breaks during the day, particularly in a cool or shaded area;
- encouraging workers to take more breaks;
- making sure your workers are fully informed about the risks of working in the heat, including identifying the signs of fatigue and heatstroke;
- using mechanical aids to reduce exertion;
- supervising your workers to detect the signs of fatigue and heat stroke;
- providing workers with suitable hats, clothing and summer protection; and
- ensuring there is adequate water available to keep workers hydrated.
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