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Employers, you need to prepare for working in heat

Submitted on Monday, 17th December 2018

The recent day or two above 35 degrees is a timely warning of the need to identify the hazards of working in heat and ensure your people do not suffer heat related illness or injury over summer.

Employer OHS duties of care extend to ensuring staff, contractors and volunteers are not overexposed to a workplace heat load that exceeds people’s capacity to maintain a core body temperature of 37 degrees centigrade and suffer a heat related incident.

Heat at work should be identified and categorised, according to the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH), into four components of heat load that may impact people.

  • Ambient temperature of the workplace
  • Radiant Heat (e.g. Sun or molten materials)
  • Relative humidity (e.g. Kitchens or dry cleaners)
  • Air Velocity (wind speed in the workplace)

Two other features that also affect people are:

  • Work rate/Personal activity level (e.g. shovelling soil)
  • Clothing/PPE that is needed (e.g. long sleeves/trousers/gloves/hats, etc.)

It is a mistake to think about the heat hazard in terms of temperature only. By reviewing the above the hazards and exposures are better understood, and a more targeted and effective mix of controls can be developed.

These controls typically must follow the following approaches:

  1. Eliminate or avoid working in heat by not proceeding with planned work and ensuring staff are not exposed - relocate to air-conditioned indoor work for example
  2. Reduce exposure by rescheduling/reducing planned work to earlier in the day and finishing/moving indoors before high heat periods of the day/shift
  3. Shield against radiant heat sources such as utilising existing shade or installing portable shade if possible. Alternatively increase shielding against radiant heat sources such as ovens/furnaces or molten glass or steel. This may also include PPE items that shield against heat sources
  4. Reduce the personal exposure to a hot workplace through increased staff rotation in hot work areas, reducing planned hot work during the day/shift, increased break or work times in air-conditioned environments
  5. Increase the air flow velocity in hot work areas to increase the cooling effect of air movement and as such, more effective cooling of people. This effect reduces as humidity increases
  6. Provide training for exposed staff on how to prepare for and reduce their risks of heat related illness and injury e.g. awareness of all controls, ‘mind-a-mate’, correct hydration and food intake, urine colour, effect of drugs/alcohol and heat acclimatisation issues
  7. Increase hydration (drinking water) of staff to ensure they are able to sweat normally, maintain a personal homeostatic balance (maintaining core body temperature), and do not dehydrate
  8. Provide personal cooling options like cold water and wet/cool clothing (e.g. moistened neck scarves/cool vests)

The Victorian Chamber’s Health, Safety and Wellbeing (HSW) team are highly qualified and experienced in assessing hot working conditions. The team can also review, prepare and improve your procedures and practices for working in hot conditions and upskill your staff in these complex safety management needs.

For more information regarding this and other HSW consulting and training services, please contact us on 03 8662 5333 or hsw@victorianchamber.com.au.

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