Protecting your workers from extreme heat

Working in direct sun or extreme heat is a known hazard for workers.

Workers are at greater risk of the effects of heat-related illness if they:

  • are overweight
  • are physically unfit
  • are pregnant
  • have consumed drugs or alcohol
  • are over 45 years old (research suggests workers over 45 years of age experience a lower ability to work in a hot environment, which can make them vulnerable as heat intensifies)
  • suffer from heart or lung disease
  • take certain medications or are on a fluid-restricted diet
  • aren’t used to working in the heat.

Research also indicates younger workers can be more susceptible to heat-related illness – possible reasons include,  lack of skills or experience when undertaking physically strenuous tasks combined with a reluctance to raise problems with supervisors.

Workers with pre-existing conditions must undergo a medical examination before commencing work.

Eliminate or reduce the risk

Employers and businesses (and other PCBUs) should always try to eliminate, so far as is reasonably practicable, any health and safety risks in the workplace. Reasonably practicable means doing that is reasonably able to be done to ensure the health and safety of workers.

Safe systems of work must ensure that all workers:

  • can identify the signs of heat-related illness
  • know how to observe and monitor their co-workers
  • know what to do if a co-worker seems affected
  • know what immediate first aid to give to an affected worker, and when to call for further medical assistance.

Outdoor workers

Plan ahead to ensure necessary measures for preventing UV radiation exposure and heat-related illness are implemented. These measures include:

Eliminating the hazard

  • where possible, relocating outdoor work so it is done in a covered, well ventilated building/structure that is not exposed to radiant heat sources (eg: pre-cast slabs, trusses etc can be made in a factory and then assembled on site later)
  • drone technology, remote sensors or other technology can be used in many industry sectors to:
    • avoid the need for workers to be exposed to the heat, work alone or remotely
    • remotely monitor agriculture, crops, livestock, fences and dams instead of requiring a worker to physically check them
    • monitor and identify problems in the infrastructure systems of public utility companies (gas, electricity and water suppliers) therefore reducing the need for workers to be exposed to environmental extremes

Isolating the hazard

  • start work on the shady side of the building, and following the shade around the building as the day progresses
  • locate hot processes away from people

Engineering controls

  • provide technology:
    • to help overcome the hazards faced by solitary workers
    • to assist colleagues to monitor workers working remotely
    • to monitor the work environment
  • provide an air-conditioned shed for rest breaks (near the areas where work is being done so workers use it).
  • provide screens, umbrellas, canopies or awnings over sections of the site to create shade where work is being carried out
  • increase air movement and remove heated air using evaporative coolers or fans
  • use chiller units, in extreme cases, to relieve air temperature and humidity, eg: when working in enclosed roof spaces
  • provide cooling vests for workers to wear
  • provide suitable communication systems that function in remote and isolated areas, particularly black spots (mobile telephone, satellite phone, personal duress alarm, emergency beacon)
  • provide mechanical equipment to reduce the need for strenuous physical work
  • place reflective shields and barriers to reduce radiant heat spots (such as unshaded outdoor cement areas; around generators and other large powered equipment)

Administration controls

  • reschedule work so the hot tasks are performed during the cooler part of the day or in cooler times of the year
  • plan work routines so outdoor work tasks are done:
    • early in the morning or later in the afternoon, when the levels of ultra-violet radiation (UVR) from the sun are lower
    • indoors or in shaded areas during the middle of the day when the levels of UVR from the sun are strongest
  • provide easy access to lots of cool drinking water. Locate it near each work area to encourage frequent drinking
  • provide regular rest breaks - particularly when the work is very physical. The frequency and length of the break should be increased if the conditions become hotter and/or more humid -  up to 30 minutes break every hour, in a cooler area, to help the body cool off.
  • implement an effective ‘buddy system’ where workers check each other frequently to ensure they are:
    • drinking enough water – a small cup (200ml) of water every 15 – 20 minutes
    • eating regular meals and snacks (to help replace salt and electrolytes lost through sweating)
    • taking appropriate breaks, and
    • are not showing signs of heat-related illness
  • provide access to crushed ice (to ingest and for use as ice towel) where possible
  • ensure the work is paced to meet the conditions. Where possible, allow workers to self-pace (set their own work rate) so they are comfortable
  • ensure workers are used to working in the heat and not taking medication that will affect their ability to cope with heat. Ease new workers – or those returning after more a week’s leave – into a hot workplace gradually, allocating extra breaks and slowly increasing their workload
  • reduce the length of shifts
  • arrange for more workers to do the job
  • share outdoor tasks between rotating staff so the same workers are not always out in the sun
  • implement effective communication procedures, such as:
    • regular contact with staff working alone or in remote and isolated locations
    • a movement itinerary for mobile workers with regular “location to base” checks
    • a means of tracking a worker if they do not return when scheduled
  • make provision for first aid treatment and emergency medical assistance
  • provide suitable supervision of all workers

Training 

Training must be provided and include how to:

  • work safely in the heat
  • identify hazards associated with working in heat, including personal factors (medication, illness, fitness /obesity, pregnancy)
  • identify warning signs they can look out for
  • recognise symptoms of heat heat-related illness
  • identify the type of treatment required
  • understand how to avoid heat illness
  • recognise the potential dangers associated with the use of alcohol and/or drugs when working in heat, and
  • use appropriate protective clothing (including any restrictions on personal clothing that may be worn underneath) and any equipment to be worn, used  and/or carried
  • how to report heat-related illness incidents immediately.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE should be provided and should be:

  • comfortable to wear
  • task-specific
  • long-sleeved collared shirts and long pants that are made of suitable (UPF) 50+ rated material / fabric
  • a suitable wide brimmed hat
  • SPF 30+ sunscreen and lip balm, and
  • appropriate wraparound sunglasses.

Ensure a workplace policy is in place stating what personal clothing workers can wear underneath any overalls or other protective clothing, as it could contribute to them being at risk of heat-related illness.

Indoor workers

Measures to prevent or reduce the risk of heat-related illness for indoor workers include:

Eliminating the hazard

  • design buildings that incorporate good air flow for hot processes, eg via windows, shutters or roof design (to encourage ‘chimney effects’ to help dissipate the heat from the structure)
  • use of robotic automation may help avoid the need to place workers in dangerous situations

Isolating the hazard

  • isolate workers in air conditioned control rooms away from the hot work
  • locate hot processes away from people
  • technology can be used in many industry sectors, eg: for loading and unloading and order-picking in warehouses, which can be a hot environment.

Engineering controls

  • install remote sensors or other technology to monitor and identify problems in the infrastructure systems of companies (eg: gas, electricity and water suppliers) to reduce the need for workers to be exposed to environmental extremes in confined spaces
  • insulate/enclose hot surfaces, processes or equipment
  • install shields or barriers to reduce radiant heat from sources such as furnaces
  • increase air movement and remove heated air or steam from hot processes using local mechanical extraction ventilation, air conditioning, evaporative coolers or fans
  • use chiller units, in extreme cases, to relieve air temperature and humidity – eg when working in enclosed roof spaces
  • install reflective or light-coloured external wall cladding and roofing
  • place reflective shields or coatings on radiant heat spots
  • provide mechanical equipment to reduce the need for strenuous physical work
  • install blinds, curtains or window tinting treatment to reduce direct sunlight

Administrative controls

  • provide easy access to lots of cool drinking water. Locate it near each work area to encourage frequent drinking
  • provide regular and frequent breaks away from hot processes in a cool, well-ventilated area – air conditioned where possible
  • implement an effective ‘buddy system’ where workers check each other frequently to ensure they are:
    • drinking enough water – a small cup (200ml) of water every 15 – 20 minutes
    • eating regular meals and snacks (to help replace salt and electrolytes lost through sweating)
    • taking appropriate breaks, and
    • are not showing signs of heat-related illness
  • provide access to crushed ice (to ingest and for use as ice towel) where possible
  • ensure the work is paced to meet the conditions. Where possible, allow workers to self-pace (set their own work rate) so they are comfortable
  • ensure workers are used to working in the heat and not taking medication that will affect their ability to cope with heat. Ease new workers – or those returning after more a week’s leave – into a hot workplace gradually, allocating extra breaks and slowly increasing their workload
  • increase worker rotation
  • reduce the length of shifts
  • share tasks between rotating staff so the same workers are not always exposed to heat
  • share unavoidable heavier jobs between more workers
  • make provision for first aid treatment and emergency medical assistance.
  • provide suitable supervision of all workers.

Training

Training must be provided and include how to:

  • work safely in the heat
  • identify hazards associated with working in heat, including personal factors (medication, illness, fitness /obesity, pregnancy)
  • recognise symptoms of heat heat-related illness
  • know the type of treatment required
  • understand how to avoid heat illness
  • recognise the potential dangers associated with the use of alcohol, drugs and some medications when working in hot environments
  • wear their appropriate protective clothing correctly (including knowing any restrictions on personal clothing that can be worn underneath), and
  • know how to report any issues immediately

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE should be provided and be:

  • comfortable to wear
  • made of suitable material / fabric that is designed to provide protection while keeping you cool in a hot work environment
  • task-specific, eg:
    • workers exposed to humid heat (eg: in kitchens, laundries) should wear loose fitting, lightweight clothing to assist air movement
    • workers exposed to radiant heat should be supplied with reflective aprons and face shields
    • foundry workers should be provided with a jacket of leather or other suitably flame resistant material. High-visibility colour options can also assist with visibility in these workplaces
    • some specialised PPE is available which actively cools the worker (eg: clothing with gel inserts that absorb heat from the worker’s skin) and increase the duration for which the worker can operate in hot environments.
  • ensure a workplace policy is in place stating what personal clothing workers can wear underneath any overalls or other protective clothing, as it could contribute to them being at risk of heat-related illness).

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contact@safework.nsw.gov.au
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