The risks of exposure to extreme heat and UVR when working outdoors – Important facts to know

The risks of exposure to extreme heat and UVR when working outdoors – Important facts to know

Working outdoors in extreme heat and/or outdoors when the ultra-violet radiation (UVR) levels are 3 or above are known hazards for workers.

They can be exposed to the risks of heat-related illness and UVR, both of which can result in severe health problems – even death.

Employers, businesses and other PCBUs have the primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of workers – regardless of whether they are full-time, part-time, casual, shift workers, labour-hire workers, contractors – or ‘others’ (eg. volunteers, visitors, etc) in the workplace, so far as is reasonably practicable.

You must use the risk management framework to manage any workplace health and safety risks and consult with workers and/or their HSRs at every stage of the process. You must always try to eliminate all identified hazards and their associated risks – including working outdoors (exposure to UVR) and in extreme heat – so far as is reasonably practicable.

Recent climate data shows that:

  • extreme heat events are occurring in Australia more often and for longer periods, which is expected to continue with greater intensity in the future, and
  • there are also increasing extremes of temperature, meaning Australia is experiencing weather with more heat extremes and fewer cool extremes.

This means that workers are now exposed to hotter working environments for longer periods and these more frequent, longer heatwaves may introduce new hazards as well as affect the control options available.

Heat-related illness describes a range of progressive heat-related conditions that happen when the body’s normal sweating response cannot cool the body down enough to maintain a healthy temperature. And, the more extreme the heat and humidity, the higher the risk is of serious illness or injury.

Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun is not related to temperature – it can’t be seen or felt. In NSW, for at least 10 months of the year, UVR levels are high enough to damage unprotected skin (i.e. UV levels of 3 and above)

UVR is a known carcinogen – it is the cause of 95% of skin cancers in Australia.

Additional SWNSW resources on managing exposure to extreme heat and UVR are:

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