The dangers of heat stress in the workplace

Date: Jan 15, 2014

As summer kicks into high gear, the mercury is rising – and so too are the health risks for New South Wales workers.

NSW WorkCover recently highlighted the dangers of working amid intense and potentially dangerous heat and reminded all employers that their duty to provide a safe environment for employees includes taking steps to lower the chances of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Failure to do so could lead to serious workers' compensation claims over total permanent disability or even fatalities at the worksite.

WorkCover stated that any activity that takes place over prolonged periods in intense heat can raise the core body temperature to unnatural levels, resulting in heat stroke and sometimes even death. Moreover, extreme heat can cause impaired thinking, which can increase the chances of other workplace accidents, such as slipping when operating dangerous machinery.

When possible, employers should always postpone or reschedule work if it appears it will occur during extremely hot times. If this isn't possible, then the employer needs to take all precautions to keep its workers safe.

Keeping workers safe in extreme heat

If the weather can't be avoided, here are a few tips employers can use to ensure their workers don't succumb to the heat.

The first step is to be aware of all risks. This includes overall exposure, humidity, poor airflow and any lack of shade. Even indoor workplaces that involve furnaces and ovens can lead to heat exhaustion, so these areas should also be monitored.

Once the risks are identified, an employer can then take proactive steps to minimise the danger. This includes providing first aid information and teaching workers about the signs and dangers of heat exposure.

The signs of heat stroke may include confusion, seizure, high body temperature and hot, dry skin. Even heat exhaustion, though slightly less serious, can have damaging effects. Early signs of this condition include vomiting, nausea, irritability, thirst and dizziness.

It may sound simple, but the best way to lower the chances of heat stroke is to focus on keeping the workplace as cool as possible. Installing air conditioning or new venting systems can make a huge difference, as can putting reflective shields on rooftops and improving insulation.

All employers have a responsibility to provide the safest work environment for their workers. Failure to do so can lead to TPD claims or other costs associated with workers' compensation.
 

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