Donesafe News

How to work safe in all this bloody heat

Work safe in high temperatures

Just outside my window, I’m looking at a window cleaner, hanging out in direct sunlight on a 40-degree day, absolutely dripping with sweat. Meanwhile the person next to me as I type this is literally wearing a scarf.

Congratulations Sydney, we just made it through the hottest January on record; and February is shaping up to be a lot worse. Now I may think it’s been terrible, but full disclosure; I work in an air-conditioned office. So really, my complaining about the heat is really me complaining about the heat between work and the nearest bus stop.

Woe is me, right?

For those that aren’t in an air-conditioned office though, the heat can be a nasty workplace hazard that kinda comes with the job. Is it something you just have to suck up and endure though? Not according to SafeWork Australia.

Across the board, there aren’t any precise temperatures at which workers should stop work, but essentially, the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulation 2011

“…requires employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that workers working in extremes of heat or cold are able to carry out their work without risk to their health and safety”.

That’s a fairly broad guideline but the SafeWork QLD site has a handy calculator to help you figure out your cumulative risk which can be found here:

In plain English though, what are the warning signs, and how do you avoid heat-related injury?

According to the WorkSafe NSW website, the warning signs of heat-related illness are:

  • feeling hot, weak and fatigued, with clammy skin
  • headache
  • loss of concentration, poor judgment, irritability
  • confusion
  • clumsiness, slower reaction times
  • slurred speech
  • intense thirst, also nausea and vomiting
  • rapid breathing and shortness of breath
  • fast, weak pulse rate; palpitations
  • tingling, numbness of fingers and/or toes
  • visual disturbance
  • dizziness, fainting (particularly when standing)
  • seizures and unconsciousness (in extreme cases)

Whether you’re a safety nut or not, you can see how even one of those symptoms could lead to serious injury either directly or secondarily.

There are a number of things workers can do to guard themselves against getting heat-related illnesses. Again, from the SafeWork NSW website you and your workers should:

  • commence work well hydrated to provide a buffer against the development of dehydration
  • eat regular meals and snacks to help replace salt and electrolytes lost through sweating
  • drink enough water while working to maintain adequate fluid replacement – at least a small cup (200ml) of cool (not cold) water every 15-20 minutes
  • never replace water with energy or caffeinated drinks – especially in hot weather
  • never drink alcohol or take drugs prior to, or at, work
  • never come to work in a hot environment with a hangover
  • do not take salt tablets (because the body needs more water to help it get rid of the salt – which will increase the risk of dehydration, as well as the risk of high blood pressure)
  • always use the mechanical aids provided (eg: fans, cooling units, trolleys, etc)
  • take their rest breaks in air-conditioned areas (eg: site shed, vehicle cabin) or at the very minimum, in a shaded area, remove any unnecessary PPE (eg: hard hats, gloves) and if necessary, ingest crushed ice and/or apply ice towels.

So what’s the takeaway?

If you’re concerned about the environmental conditions of your workplace, raise it your immediate supervisor and discuss how you might reduce the impact on yourself and your team. There are plenty of controls to be put in place that really shouldn’t impact the day-to-day negatively at all. In the end; it’s in everyone’s best interest to have a happy and healthy workforce, so it’s win-win.

Stay cool out there.
(and as always; safe)

By Christopher Notley-Smith at

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