Workers warned to guard against heat stress

Friday, 25 January, 2019

Workers warned to guard against heat stress

The start of the year has already seen temperatures soar across Australia and, with summer stretching ahead, WorkSafe has warned about the effect this could have on workers.

Hot environments can cause workers to lose up to a litre of fluid every hour, and they have been urged to take precautions to avoid the risk of heat stress or heat stroke. WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh noted that both indoor and outdoor workers may be affected by the heat, and workplace safety laws require an employer to protect employees from extremes in temperature.

“The increased sweating caused by heat depletes the body’s fluids and can lead to the symptoms of heat stress — tiredness, irritability, inattention and muscular cramps,” he said. “Apart from the obvious physical discomfort of these symptoms, they may increase the risk of workplace injuries by taking a worker’s attention away from the task at hand, and this is a major concern.”

As well as drinking cool water regularly to replace lost fluid, WorkSafe provided a number of suggestions to avoid heat stress, including: having rest pauses in a cool place; helping sweat evaporate by increasing air circulation and wearing loose clothing; and reorganising work schedules, where possible, to avoid peak temperatures.

Heat stroke is a more serious condition, with symptoms of cessation in sweating, high body temperature, hot and dry skin, confusion and potentially loss of consciousness. Those suffering from heat stroke should be treated by a doctor as soon as possible, but soaking clothing in cold water and increasing air movement by fanning could help cool them down in the meantime.

“Guarding against heat stress and heat stroke is part of providing a safe and healthy workplace, and I urge employers to ensure that preventative measures are in place,” said Kavanagh.

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