The basics – working in heat is a hazard that can result in severe health problems for many NSW workers – whether they work indoors or outdoors.
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.
Heat-related injuries can be quite common, and may result in fatalities– particularly in tasks that require attention, coordination and immediate memory skills.
The WHS Regulation does not state a precise temperature at which workers should stop work because exposure to heat-related illness depends on a number of factors.
What is heat-related illness?
If the body has to work too hard to keep cool, it starts to overheat and a worker begins to suffer from heat-related illness. ‘Heat-related illness’ is a term that describes a range of progressive heat-related conditions, such as dehydration, fainting, heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Some people are at greater risk of suffering heat-related illness than others, and there are warning signs you need to look out for.
Usually, a person doesn’t realise they may be suffering from heat-related illness. In addition, working in a hot environment can contributes to, or can cause, other serious health and safety injuries because of a worker being possibly fatigued, physically weak, having slower reaction times and poor judgement.
Drinking enough water is vital for workers working in a hot environment. It’s important not to replace water with energy drinks, soft drinks or coffee – which can dehydrate you further.
Ultra-violet radiation (UVR) Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun is not related to temperature – it can’t be seen or felt. All skin types can be damaged by UVR. The damage is permanent and irreversible and increases with each exposure. Outdoor workers are at risk of exposure to UVR all year round, so it must be managed every working day, throughout the entire year.
What do you need to do?
If working in extreme heat is identified as a hazard in your workplace, it should be managed following the standard risk management approach: Identify the hazard Assess the risks Control the risks Review control measures. We recommend a workplace heat management plan is developed and implemented in consultation with workers and/or their HSRs.
If a worker thinks their workplace is too hot, they should report it.
A worker may cease, or refuse to carry out, work if they have reasonable concern the work will expose them to a serious risk to their health and safety.