In today’s blog post, we delve into a critical aspect of workplace safety—protecting workers from the risks associated with heat when working in hot weather or environments where heat is generated as part of the job. Our focus is on understanding heat illness, recognizing its symptoms, and implementing measures to prevent or minimize its impact on the workforce.
Heat illness occurs when the body’s natural cooling mechanisms fail to keep up with external factors such as temperature, humidity, air movement, radiant temperature of surroundings, clothing, or physical activity (metabolic heat load). Understanding these contributing factors is crucial in creating a safe working environment.
Heat-Related Illness Symptoms
Recognizing the symptoms of heat-related illnesses is essential for prompt intervention:
- Discomfort: flushed skin, increased sweating, heat rashes (prickly heat)
- Mild heat illness: fatigue, weakness, dizziness, cramps, reduced work capacity, shortened attention span, irritability
- Heat exhaustion: fainting, headache, low blood pressure, nausea, clammy or pale/flushed skin, normal to high body temperature (up to 39C)
- Heat stroke: irritability, confusion, speech problems, hot dry skin, convulsions, unconsciousness, high body temperature, potentially fatal—requires immediate first aid and medical attention.
Preventing Heat Illness
Effective prevention involves modifying workload and taking proactive measures:
- Reschedule work: Perform hot tasks during the cooler parts of the day
- Wear appropriate clothing: Lightweight, protective clothing
- Reduce task duration: Implement job rotation or assign additional workers
- Provide rest breaks: Ensure breaks in cool areas
- Use mechanical aids: Reduce physical exertion
- Hydration reminders: Encourage regular water consumption (200mls every 15-20 minutes) and discourage reliance on soft drinks or caffeinated beverages
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): Implement reflective aprons, face shields, and UV protection for outdoor work.
Treatment for Heat Illness
- Move to a cooler environment with good air movement
- Loosen clothing
- Provide cool fluids
- Sponge with cold/iced water
- Seek medical attention if recovery is not swift or vomiting occurs.
- Follow DRSABCD action plan
- Immerse in a bath of cold/iced water; if impractical, apply cold packs to neck, groin, and armpit areas
- Call 000 for an ambulance
- If conscious, provide water
- Seek urgent medical attention if unconscious or experiencing a seizure.
- Drink small amounts of water (200mls) every 20-30 minutes to stay hydrated.
- Watch for signs of heat-related issues in your colleagues; take them to a cool area and alert the First Aid Officer.
- Embrace protective measures: slip on a hat, slap on some sunscreen and wear UV-protected clothing.
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Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/
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