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WITH summer fast approaching, national workplace safety policy body Safe Work Australia has issued a handy guide for managing the risks of working in heat.
The guide may be a useful tool for employers when embedding new recruits, as well as a handy reminder for existing staff.
It provides information on how to manage risks associated with working in heat and what to do if a worker begins to suffer from a heat-related illness.
Managers, supervisors and workers themselves all have duties under WH&S laws to manage risks to worker health and safety, including those associated with working in heat.
Managing the risks
The guide steps through four actions that should be used to ensure that workers and other people are not exposed to harm from working in hot conditions. Here’s a quick summary (full report can be accessed below).
Identify the hazard
Heat is a hazard in many Australian workplaces, whether work is performed indoors or outdoors. Factors include air temperature, air flow, humidity, radiant heat sources, work requirements, the workers themselves, and the workplace.
To help identify hazards, managers should talk to workers and other duty holders. It may also be worth talking to other similar businesses to find out whether heat is a hazard in those workplaces. Additionally, managers should review ‘near misses’, incidents and injury records to help identify risks associated with heat in the workplace.
Assess the risk
A risk assessment can help determine:
- how severe the risk is
- whether existing control measures are effective
- what action you should take to control the risk, and
- how urgently you need to take action.
To assess the risk, managers should consider what the impact of the hazard is, and how likely the hazard is to cause harm; how hot a worker feels will be different in every situation, depending on the individual worker, the work they are doing and the environment in which they are working.
When assessing heat risks, managers should consider:
Where the work is being done:
Working near heat sources and in confined spaces with minimal air flow can increase the risk of heat related illness. Radiant temperatures may be high when working in the sun, particularly on concrete or on a metal roof, or near hot machinery or processes. Working in high levels of humidity can make it more difficult for a person to cool down.
The type of work:
Physical exertion, particularly over long periods, increases the risk of heat-related illness, even in moderate conditions. Some workers may also not be able to pace their work and may be at greater risk from the heat. Concentration may also be affected by heat, particularly for complex or difficult tasks. Clothing, including PPE, may impair the evaporation of sweat and increase the risk of heat-related illness.
The individual workers:
- Physical fitness and acclimatisation to current working conditions.
- Whether a worker has disclosed anything which indicates they are susceptible to heat related illness, for example:
- Taking certain medications such as diuretics, or taking non-medical drugs
- Suffering from a relevant condition or illness such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease or fever
- Has previously suffered from a heat-related illness
- At higher risk of dehydration or electrolyte depletion for example are on a fluid-restricted diet
- Younger (aged 25 or under) or older (aged 55 or more)
- Returning to work after an absence, such as a fly-in-fly-out worker, or someone returning to work after an incident.
Control the risk
Managers must do everything that is reasonably practicable to eliminate risks associated with working in heat. Where it is not possible to eliminate a risk, it must be minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Managers should work through a hierarchy of controls when managing risks, using one or more of the following approaches:
- Substitute the hazard with something safer
- Isolate the hazard, and
- Use engineering control measures
Remember, heat that represents a hazard to workers may be generated by more than just weather conditions. A combination of control measures may be the most effective. Below are some examples of ways managers may mitigate the risks associated with working in heat.
Review the control measures
Managers should review control measures to ensure that they are working as planned, and that they do not introduce new uncontrolled risks. For example, removing PPE to cool a worker down may introduce new hazards such as exposure to chemicals or solar UVR.
Consulting with workers and their representatives, if any, can help determine if the control measures are effective.
For more information on controlling the risk see the Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks provides information on risk management and the hierarchy of risk control.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has also published a Heat Stress basic calculator that may assist managers in assessing the risk of working in heat.
The Bureau of Meteorology is also a useful source of up to date information, particularly if workers will be working outdoors or somewhere where environmental conditions can affect temperature and humidity. BOM’s Heatwave Service for Australia forecasts the location and severity of heatwaves and information on climate zones of Australia, which can help identify the likelihood of high temperatures and high humidity. BOM also publishes a range of local forecasts and current observations.
Managers can use simple indices such as apparent temperature, which is calculated using ambient temperature and relative humidity, to help estimate how hot conditions feel to workers.
About Safe Work Australia
Safe Work Australia works with the Commonwealth, state and territory governments to improve work health and safety and workers’ compensation arrangements. Safe Work Australia is a national policy body, not a regulator of work health and safety. The Commonwealth, states and territories have responsibility for regulating and enforcing work health and safety laws in their jurisdiction.