When outdoor work can’t be delayed any longer
Plan ahead to prevent exposure to UV radiation and heat-related illness
It is more difficult to control the environment outdoors, than it is indoors. Prolonged periods of extreme hot weather can make existing controls less effective (eg: workers may be able to be diverted to other tasks for one or two extremely hot days, but the PCBU may not have the resources to postpone work for a prolonged period of extreme heat).
Recent climate data shows that extreme heat events are occurring in Australia more often and for longer periods and this is expected to continue with greater intensity in the future. There are also increasing extremes of temperature, which has seen Australia experiencing more warm weather and extreme heat, 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.
If work has to be done outdoors - in extreme heat, then the PCBU must take steps to manage risks to protect workers.
Identify the amount of heavy physical work that will be required and then ensure all necessary measures to prevent exposure to UV radiation and heat-related illness are implemented.
Hierarchy of controls
PCBUs must focus on the hierarchy of controls when managing risks. Usually, a combination of controls are needed to get the best results. These include:
- planned work routines to avoid working in the middle of the day, eg: outdoor work tasks are done early in the morning and later in the afternoon when the levels of ultra-violet radiation (UVR) from the sun, as well as hopefully the temperature, are lower,
- an air-conditioned site shed
- canopies or awnings over the section of the site where work is currently being done
- mechanical aids to reduce the need for physical exertion
- an effective ‘buddy system’ is in place, where workers check each other frequently to ensure they are regularly drinking enough water, taking breaks and not showing signs of heat-related illness. (Apps may assist with monitoring worker’s physical symptoms – and may even be able to assess possible deteriorating mental states).
- easy access to cool water - located near each work area to encourage frequent drinking
- access to crushed ice (to ingest and for use as ice towel)
- cooling vests
- 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.
- arrange for more workers to do the job
- pace the work to meet the conditions. Where possible, allow workers to self-pace (set their work rate so they are comfortable)
- reduce the length of shifts