Working Safely in the Heat

The information in this article is very useful for all Australians working, playing or exercising in the heat.

In speaking with the media last week, the Director of the Working in the Heat Study at the Australian National University, Dr Liz Hanna, announced that their research study is now complete.

The primary aim of the ANU study when commenced was to “to generate the knowledge that can prevent heat related illness among Australian workers”. To achieve this the study sought, “a better understanding of existing workplace practices and heat policies around Australia, and how well these are adopted by workers”.

We have not found any reference to when the report of the research study will be published but we have shown below some key points covered by Dr Hanna in her contacts with the media.

Most workers overestimate their capacity to work in heat

- The majority of the 500 workers in the study who routinely work in hot environments believed they could function normally in temperatures five to 10 degrees hotter than they actually can.

- They suffer early symptoms of heat stress at temperatures they believe are safe to keep working in – a potentially dangerous lack of recognition of personal health risk.

Most workers are not fully hydrated

- The study found that only 20 per cent of workers show up to work fully hydrated.

- Heat stress symptoms worsen the more a worker is dehydrated.

Acclimatisation

- It takes several weeks of prolonged physical activity in the heat to acclimatise to working in the heat and it is a risky process.

- The capacity to acclimatise varies from person to person and their upper limit for heat tolerance is not predictable.

- Acclimatisation is only sustained by regular heat exposure so it can’t be relied on for early season heatwaves.

All ages at risk

- Many Australians erroneously regard working in the heat as only a danger for the sick, the elderly or children.

- All age groups and those who are fit appear in heat mortality statistics.

The temperature where you are

Temperatures in the workplace can vary considerably from what is published by the Bureau of Meteorology so it is important that workers know what the temperature is where they are.

On hot sunny days it is warmer near buildings and infrastructure because of the radiated heat (known as heat islands) but cooler under trees.

Useful relevant information on the WorkCover website Answers to the following frequently asked questions can be found in the WorkCover publication

Heat Stress: Frequently Asked Questions Q5 What are the warning signs of heat stress?

Q6 How much water should I drink when working in hot conditions?

Q8 How do I know if I am getting dehydrated?


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