Heat Stress WARNING Issued by SafeWork NSW
Executive Director of SafeWork NSW, Peter Dunphy said heat stress or heat illness is a serious condition that could result in organ failure or death if working in hot conditions was not managed safely.
“Fatigue and heat stress are major causes of injury during the summer months,” Mr Dunphy said, adding that in the three years to July 2014 there were 228 worker compensation claims for workplace fatigue and heat stroke.
“Many workers have been seriously injured or died while working in hot conditions,” he said.
“[Heat stress] can reduce a worker’s performance and productivity, plus increase the chance of injury by reducing the ability to concentrate, recognise risks and communicate effectively.”
Dunphy said outdoor workers and those working in hot environments and confined areas such as roof spaces were most at risk.
He urged workers and employers to take care, keep an eye on colleagues and make efforts to “be informed how to work safely in the sun and hot conditions”.
“Management should set realistic workloads and work schedules, ensure fair distribution of work, provide shaded rest areas and regular breaks,” Dunphy said.
He also suggested re-scheduling work to early mornings or late afternoon when it is cooler.
According to thermal physiologist and heat stress specialist, Dr Matt Brearly, those who develop a headache or feel nauseous after a hot work shift are probably experiencing a ‘heat hangover’.
Brearly says the heat hangover is a serious condition leading to workers operating at a fraction of their physical and mental capacity as well as negatively affecting their downtime between shifts.
He suggests that the heat hangover is the leading cause of staff turnover in the tropics, however states heat stress can be effectively managed.
Brearly has found the ingestion of crushed ice to be an good method of reducing the occurrence of heat stress, substantially lower core body temperatures by acting as a heat sink in the body.
He says that crushed ice ingestion is a superior method of lowering the core body temperature than consuming cold drinks.
Bearly also states that improving physical fitness is another excellent method for improving tolerance to hot conditions.
“Regular training makes you adapt so that when the hot days come along the stresses of the job are not new to you and you are in front of the worker who hasn’t trained,” he says.
For employers, a heat stress management policy will help implement effective strategies and worker monitoring to reduce the occurrence of the productivity-sapping and potentially deadly condition.
Minimise the occurrence of heat stress
- Consume plenty of fluids and low sugar electrolytes drinks.
- Don’t drink energy or caffeinated drinks which can have a diuretic affect.
- Improve physical fitness.
- Avoid alcohol before or after a shift.
- Ingest crushed ice. It acts as a heat sink.
- Wear cooling apparel such as a Chilly Vest or Cooling Neck Tie.
- Wear sun protection (UPF 50+ sunscreen and clothing, hats and sunglasses meeting Australian Standards for UV protection).
- Ensure adequate sleep and good diet.