Working in heat: advice from the Ai Group

The following information will help you to manage the risks to your workers when they are working in heat, as well as offer some advice on recognising and treating the symptoms of heat-related stress.

What are some common effects of working in heat?

Working in heat can cause harm to workers, and if the body works too hard to keep cool or starts to overheat, a worker may suffer from heat-related stress. Common effects of working in heat include heat rash, heat exhaustion, fainting and dehydration.

Working in heat can cause reduced concentration and workers may become confused, meaning they may be more likely to make mistakes such as forgetting to guard machinery, which may lead to them injuring themselves. Heat stroke can occur when the body can no longer cool itself down, and it can be fatal.

How can you manage risks associated with working in heat?

The following steps should be used to ensure that workers are not exposed to harm from working in heat.

Step 1:

Identify the hazard. To find out if heat is a hazard in your workplace, consider air temperature, air flow, humidity, radiant heat sources, work requirements and the work environment. Talking to your workers and any health and safety representatives can help to identify further hazards and risks.

Step 2:

Assess the risk. A risk assessment can help determine how severe the risk is, whether existing control measures are effective, what action should be taken to control the risk and how urgently action should be taken. As part of the risk assessment, the business should also consider the impact of the hazard and the likelihood that the hazard will cause harm.

When assessing the work, consider factors such as where the work is being performed? Is the work physically demanding? Physical effort as well as working near hot surfaces or outside increases the risk of heat-related illness.

Step 3:

Control the risk. The work environment should be well ventilated or air-conditioned if possible. Workers should have access to an air-conditioned break room as well access to cool drinking water to avoid dehydration. Encourage workers to pace themselves and ensure that there is adequate supervision and regular rest breaks. Schedule heavy or strenuous work for cooler times of the day or year, and modify targets or work rates to make the work easier and reduce physical exertion.

Step 4:

Review the control measures. You must review control measures to ensure that they are working as planned and that they do not introduce new uncontrolled risks. For example, removing personal protective equipment (PPE) to cool a worker down may introduce new hazards such as exposure to chemicals or UV rays.

What can you do if someone develops a heat-related illness?

Heat-related illness can be dangerous if left untreated. If you think that a worker has severe heat exhaustion or heat stroke, you should call an ambulance immediately and perform first aid until the ambulance arrives.

If a worker is displaying symptoms such as mild to severe thirst, dry lips and tongue, they could be suffering from dehydration. First aid treatment for dehydration includes drinking water and avoiding caffeine, loosening tight clothing, and in the case of extreme heat or dehydration, replacing electrolytes. If symptoms don’t improve or are severe, you should seek medical advice.

Further advice or assistance

For further advice or assistance on this topic, or any workplace relations matter, Employment Plus clients who have placed two or more candidates have free access to the Ai Group Workplace Advice Line. Call 1300 862 217 8.30am – 5.15pm AEDT Mon-Fri.