Workers and employees told to ‘remain vigilant’ during heatwave

Date: Jan 14, 2013

With the recent wave of high temperatures, authorities have reminded Australians about the dangers of working in a hot environment.

WorkCover NSW general manager of workplace health and safety division John Watson issued a warning last week about the need for both employers and workers to remain vigilant.

Mr Watson suggested re-scheduling work to cooler times of the day, or at the very least providing workers with access to plain drinking water, shaded rest areas and regular breaks.

Heat illness, which occurs when the body is unable to sufficiently cool itself, can be incapacitating and even fatal.

“Common symptoms of dangerous heat illness may include nausea, dizziness, general weakness and collapse,” said Mr Watson in a statement.

“If you or your workers are working in a hot environment and have any of these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical assistance.”

According to WorkCover NSW’s fact sheet on working in heat, there are several factors which can contribute to an elevated risk of heat illness.

These include air temperature, humidity, movement of air, the nature and duration of the work, clothing worn by workers and individual physical fitness.

In addition to Mr Watson’s advice, WorkCover NSW suggests minimising the risk of heat illness occurring by modifying the workload.

This could mean rostering additional workers on to finish a job more quickly, engaging mechanical aids to minimise physical exertion, doing the work in a different location, wearing lighter clothing, or a combination of all of these strategies.

Workers are encouraged to drink 200 mL – about a cup – of cool drinking water every 15 to 20 minutes and not restrict their liquid intake to only caffeinated or soft drinks.

Heat illness is not the only danger of working during a heatwave, as hot working conditions can cause other health and safety problems too.

These include the loss of grip while handling objects due to sweaty hands; mistakes, slips or falls due to heat fatigue or fainting – which could lead to head injuries; cutting corners and not following safe work procedures; and burns suffered from contact with hot surfaces or substances.

Mr Watson said that “employees and workers should work in partnership” to guard against all the dangers of working in heat.

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