Hotter Summers a Risk to Your Health
Rising Summer temperatures pose a threat to the health and safety of Aussie workers, in particular workers who spend a great amount of time outdoors, such as construction workers. According to experts temperatures are set to triple over the next 10 years which could result in more fatalities due to dehydration, heat strokes and other heat related illnesses. Loss of concentration and impairment in judgement, especially in construction workers can have a devastating effect due to the risk involved in construction work.
An interesting post on SafetyCulture.com.au provided more information on the issue:
Australian workers are facing increased safety and health risks as summer becomes hotter, an expert warned.
According to a report by the Herald Sun, academics at the National Climate Change Adaptation Conference, which opened on Tuesday, said a review on workplace laws should be done as summers become hotter.
Dr Elizabeth Hanna from the Australian National University’s centre for epidemiology and population health, said increasing summer temperatures were causing more heat-related health problems and fatalities, with many happening at work.
“Australia really needs to start developing some adaptation options because what’s going to happen is we’re going to face that horrible question, ‘Do we down tools over summer or work until we’re dead?’” said Dr Hanna.
She also said that days when temperatures reached more than 35C would triple over the next decade.
“The problem is if you sweat up to maximum you become dehydrated, and dehydration has the double whammy – it impairs your mental ability and so people can have poor judgment, particularly if they’re using equipment and machinery and can increase accidents.
The Herald Sun further reports that there are 1000 heat-related fatalities every year, and this figure is expected to increase.
Dr Hanna is leading an ANU study to learn about industries and activities that are most susceptible to heat-related diseases.
Construction employers and workers need to pay more attention to health and safety outdoors as temperatures begin to rise. Employers should develop a strategy to deal with the increasing temperatures, so that workers are not too badly affected.
When working in extreme heat it is extremely important to guard yourself against heat related illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, cramps etc. The risk involved with working in hot environments intensifies when high temperatures, high humidity and low air movement combine. Places with bad ventilation or confined areas are particularly susceptible to this.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not promptly and properly treated. To prevent heat strokes are to avoid becoming dehydrated and to avoid vigorous physical activities in hot and humid weather. However working in construction, this may not always be possible, so managing the heat is the next practicable step.
When working in extreme heat:
- Drink at least half a litre of water each hour, to replace the water lost during sweating. Dehydration is the biggest problem when working in the sun, so replace water lost through sweating to avoid this.
- Wear the appropriate PPE (Personal protective wear), example long sleeve, loose fit shirts when working in the sun. Sunhats to protect the face and guard against sun stroke.
- Ventilate the work area to provide a good flow of cool air. This is especially important where work processes generate heat such as machinery and equipment. In very hot environments, where there is no fresh air workers are likely to faint.
- When working outdoors, skin cancer is a major hazard so make sure to wear the appropriate PPE and take the necessary precautions such as wearing a hat and applying sunscreen.
- Take frequent rest breaks and relax in a shaded rest area. Employers should provide a place, out of the sun where workers can have lunch breaks and rest.
- Employers should provide free access to cool drinking water so that workers can keep themselves hydrated
- Employers should also encourage the removal of personal protective equipment when resting to help encourage heat loss.
- Educate workers about recognizing the early symptoms of heat stress
- For outdoors work, try to reschedule work to cooler times of the day. If this is not possible arrange workers in shifts so that the same workers are not in the sun the entire day.
Employers need to address the issue before it results in even more serious consequences such as illness, death or workers downing tools hampering productivity and affecting their bottom line even further.
Posted by Steven Asnicar