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What Is Heat Stress And How Can I Prevent It At The Workplace?

Published January 15, 2020 (last updated June 25, 2020) Author: Employsure
How To Prevent Heat Stress In The Workplace

What Is Heat Stroke?

Heat stress and heatstroke are one of the biggest health risks for workplaces during hot summer months. Workers who often work under hot conditions outside – like those in the construction and agriculture industries – are at a bigger risk of suffering from heat-related illnesses.

Despite the high profile of public health efforts such as the Slip, Slop, Slap and SunSmart campaigns, Australian workers say that their employers don’t protect them from the sun and heat as much as they should.

According to the 2016 Skin Health Australia Report, 65% of workers say their employer didn’t provide them with clothing to protect them from the sun. Another 2016 study by Safe Work Australia found that only 8% of workers who spend more than four hours a day outside apply sunscreen, wear a hat, work in the shade, and wear clothes that cover the arms and legs.

While many Australians may have experienced feeling ill from the heat at one point, heat stress can lead to heatstroke – a life-threatening state where the body is failing to cool itself and maintain a healthy temperature.

Usually, sweat helps maintain a healthy body temperature. But as a person becomes dehydrated, the body cannot sweat as much, and therefore can’t regulate its internal temperature. An unhealthily high temperature may then lead to dizziness, nausea, seizures, heightened pulse, headaches and many other symptoms.

So how do you prevent heat stress – and therefore, heatstroke?

Identify The Causes

  • Dehydration – workers must ensure they replace the fluids expelled in sweat. Energy drinks, soft drinks, cordial, fruit juice, and alcohol are not considered to be hydrating. Water and sports drinks (like Gatorade or Powerade) are suitable for hydration.
  • Working conditions – sunny, hot days are an obvious factor in heat stress, especially if work must be done outside during midday hours in summer. Crowded work spaces, like large sporting events, can also lead to a hot environment.
  • Lack of airflow – a lacklustre airflow, or poor ventilation, in any workplace environment can make for hotter conditions. This is especially the case in confined areas
  • Bushfires – radiant heat from bushfires can increase dehydration and heat-related illnesses
  • Individual factors – older workers, pregnant women and workers with existing medical conditions are more at risk of heat stress

Preventing Heat Stroke While Working

  • Provide workers with plenty of hydration, e.g. water and sports drinks
  • Provide sunscreen and adequate clothing to workers working outside
  • Provide wet towels for workers to help them cool down in hot condition
  • Keep up to date with weather conditions and plan ahead for working in high or very high temperatures. If possible, move strenuous work to cooler parts of the day or rotate workers working throughout the midday hours.
  •  Invest in air conditioning or cooling fans. Set up the workplace to have better airflow
  •  Develop a heatstroke action plan and educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of heat stress and heatstroke.

Symptoms Of Heat Stress

Heat stress can lead to heatstroke, if the heat stress is left untreated. The symptoms of heat stress include:

  • Faint or dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Heat cramps
  • Fast and shallow breathing
  • Cool, pale and clammy (i.e. wet from sweating) skin

Heatstroke, on the other hand, can be characterized by a lack of sweating and red, hot, dry skin, a dry, swollen tongue, nausea, a rapid pulse, slurred speech and headaches. In the case that you believe someone is suffering from heatstroke, health authorities recommend you ring 000 immediately.

About Employsure

Employsure is Australia’s largest workplace relations specialists. We take the complexity out of workplace laws to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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