When heat is not the only danger for outdoors workers

By Andrew Hobbs on January 11th, 2018
  1. Risk Management
  2. Hazard Identification


TEMPERATURES hit north of 40 degrees Celsius in Sydney and Melbourne last weekend – a pre-cursor of things to come as Australia moves into its second month of summer.

While exposure to extreme temperatures might be avoidable while we’re not at work, what happens when workers return from leave? Australia’s notoriously high summer temperatures can create a workplace risk – particularly for people working outdoors.

Most businesses are aware of the dangers of exposing workers to heat and can identify many of the symptoms that show workers could be suffering the ill effects of heat stress, including nausea, dizziness, fatigue, collapsing, fainting or suffering convulsions, cramps and rashes. They recognise that untreated, over-heated workers can even suffer life-threatening heatstroke.

Warning for employers

But what many employers might not realise is the detrimental effect on workers’ health that high levels of humidity can have. Recently, a climate and worker health expert told the ABC that workers exposed to high humidity take much longer to cool down than they normally would, as sweat takes longer to evaporate – thus keeping people warmer for longer.

Former president of the Climate and Health Alliance Liz Hanna said that some workers could show signs of heat stress at temperatures of only 26 degrees Celsius when the humidity was high. In the north of Australia, high humidity levels are not uncommon.

Dr Hanna, who surveyed more than 500 people who worked outdoors, said that workers should start restricting their activities if the rate of humidity hit above 60%, and cancelled if it went above 70%.

What you can do

Chapter W3 Working Environment of the Health & Safety Handbook recommends that you:

  • schedule outdoor work around the hottest times of the day – either early in the morning or late in the afternoon or evening;
  • install temporary shades to let employees work out of the sun where possible;
  • increase the number of breaks, or allow your workers to opt for additional breaks when they feel overheated;
  • provide workers with water, and encourage them to stay hydrated;
  • ensure your workers are wearing appropriate clothing and sunscreen;
  • increase ventilation using air conditioners or fans; and
  • direct outdoor workers to rest in a shaded area when temperatures reach an unsafe level. This will vary depending on the humidity and exposure time.

You can access further information about how to reduce heat risks and ways to ensure that the air quality in your workplace is appropriate for work through the chapter by signing up for a 14-day obligation-free trial of the Health & Safety Handbook.

Click here to find out more.


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