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Beat the Heat: Workplace Health & Safety in Extreme Temperatures 

Published October 12, 2023 - Head of Health and Safety

Australia is no stranger to hot weather, but a sizzling September took the nation by surprise. A strong high-pressure system parked over the country, trapping warm air and causing temperatures to soar. 

The mercury in southern states rose above 40 degrees – a new record for the first weeks of spring. Records were also broken in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.  

The heatwave was so intense it melted roads, ignited bush fires, and caused power outages. After three years of heavy rains and flooding, Aussies are now on red alert for a scorching spring and summer. 

According to the Work Health and Safety Act (2011), employers have a responsibility to do everything reasonably practicable to protect the health and safety of their workers, including taking steps to manage the risks of working in extreme heat. 

If you want to implement health and safety policies that help your workers beat the heat, read on! 

Why is health and safety in extreme heat important? 

Workplace health and safety is important in extreme heat for several reasons: 

  • Extreme heat can cause a number of serious health problems, including heatstroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps. Heatstroke is the most serious heat-related illness and can be fatal. 
  • Cognitive function and physical performance can also be impaired by extreme heat, making it difficult for workers to perform their jobs safely. This can increase the risk of accidents and injuries, especially when workers are outdoors performing manual tasks.  
  • Extreme heat can exacerbate existing medical conditions, such as heart disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes. This can make workers with pre-existing health issues more vulnerable. 
  • It’s also important to remember that extreme heat can disproportionately impact other vulnerable employees, such as older employees and employees who work outdoors or in already hot environments. 
  • Finally, extreme heat can lead to lost productivity and increased costs for businesses. This is due to absenteeism, presenteeism (reduced productivity due to illness or discomfort), and increased workers’ compensation claims. 

For all these reasons, it’s important for employers to take steps to protect their workers. This includes monitoring workers for signs of illness and, most importantly, developing a heat management plan and sharing it with staff via a safety briefing

What is a heat management plan? 

A heat management plan is a document outlining the steps that an employer will take to protect their workers from the risks of working in extreme heat. It’s best if the plan is developed in consultation with workers. 

A heat management plan should include the following elements: 

  • Risk assessment: The plan should identify the risks of working in extreme heat. This includes considering the environmental conditions, the tasks being performed, and the individual characteristics of the workers. 
  • Control measures: The plan should outline the control measures that will be used to eliminate or reduce the risks involved. 
  • Monitoring and review: The plan should include procedures for monitoring workers for signs of heat-related illness. You should also review the plan on a regular basis, making changes as needed. 

Here’s an example of what might be included in a heat management plan for a construction site: 

  • Risk assessment: The risk assessment would identify the risks of working in extreme heat on the construction site. This would include considering factors such as:  
    • The type of work being performed: How strenuous is it? Does it involve manual handling or heavy machinery? 
    • The environmental conditions: Will the worker be in direct sunlight? Will the machinery produce additional heat?  
    • The age and fitness of the workers: Does anybody have underlying health conditions that increase risks? 
  • Control measures: The control measures might include providing workers with shade and cold drinking water, scheduling regular breaks, performing work during cooler times of the day, and providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). 
  • Monitoring and review: The monitoring procedures will involve supervisors checking on workers for signs of heat-related illness. The plan will also be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it is effective. 

It’s important to note that heat management plans should be tailored to your workplace and the specific risks that workers face. Remember – there is no one-size-fits-all approach! 

How can Employsure help?  

As a business owner, you have a legal responsibility toward the health and safety of your staff. With the temperature and health risks on the rise, Employsure can help you keep your workers safe and your business secure. 

Over 31,000 businesses across Australia and New Zealand trust us to support them with workplace health and safety. Call our FREE Advice Line on 1300 146 360 to get all your difficult health and safety questions answered today. 

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