Protecting your workers in extreme heat
With the extreme temperatures of Australian summer quickly approaching, SafeWork NSW is urging businesses to take steps to ensure workers avoid afflictions such as heat stroke.
Executive Director of SafeWork NSW Peter Dunphy says workers can get seriously injured and even die while working in hot weather, so businesses and workers, particularly those working outdoors, need to adopt a flexible and common sense approach to working in the heat.
“Outdoor workers and those working in hot environments such as roof spaces or other confined areas are most at risk,” he says.
“By monitoring temperature, humidity, hydration and work activity, businesses can minimise the risks of heat stress and heat-related illness when working in hot and sunny conditions.”
“The heat can reduce a worker’s concentration, ability to recognise risks and communicate effectively. Keep an eye out for signs of heat-related illness such as dizziness, general weakness, collapse and in extreme cases, heat stroke.
“If you’re a manager or supervisor, set realistic workloads and work schedules, ensure fair distribution of work, provide shaded rest areas and regular breaks,” he suggests. “Where possible, try to reschedule work to cooler times of the day such as early morning or late afternoon.”
Recommendations for working in the heat:
- Provide access to plain drinking water, at least 200mL every 15-20 minutes,
- don’t drink energy or caffeinated drinks which can have a diuretic effect,
- rotate tasks to lessen exposure to the sun as well as mental and physical fatigue,
- ensure workers wear sun protection in all outdoor conditions,
- provide a cool, shaded area for regular breaks, such as a site shed, preferably with air conditioning, or at least a space under some shade cloth,
- provide clothing with a UPF 50+ rating such as loose shirts with long sleeves, collars and long pants, and
- provide broad-spectrum sunscreen SPF 30+, broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses which meet Australian Standards for UV protection.
Indoor workers can also be at risk if the spaces they work in produce heat, such as a kitchen, or are badly ventilated. Ensure indoor working areas have sufficient air flow and air conditioning for extremely hot days. Install insulating shields or barriers to protect workers against heat sources such as machinery or cooking stations.
SafeWork NSW has published a video that provides tips for businesses and workers tips on how to work safely in hot weather: