WorkSafe WA issues heat stress warning for workplaces

Tuesday, 12 January, 2021

WorkSafe WA issues heat stress warning for workplaces

Workplaces in Western Australia have been reminded to guard against the effects of extreme temperatures, ahead of another week of summer heat in the state. WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh reminded employers and workers of the need to take extra care during the summer months, to avoid the risk of heat stress or heat stroke.

Workers in extremely hot environments can lose up to a litre of fluid every hour, and it is vital that this lost fluid is replaced. Workers are encouraged to drink cool, clean water at frequent intervals, take rest pauses in a cool place, and help sweat evaporate by increasing air circulation. Where possible, employers are also encouraged to reorganise work schedules so outdoor tasks are carried out early in the morning and late in the day to avoid peak temperatures.

“This warning goes out not only to outdoor workers, but also to employees that may be exposed to constant high temperatures that can result in heat stress or even heat stroke in indoor workplaces like foundries,” said Kavanagh.

To comply with workplace safety laws, employers are required to ensure that workers are not exposed to hazards, including protecting employees from extremes in temperature. Kavanagh asserted that guarding against heat stress and heat stroke is part of providing a safety and health workplace, and urged employers to ensure that preventative measures are in place.

“The increased sweating caused by heat depletes the body’s fluids and can lead to the symptoms of heat stress — tiredness, irritability, inattention and muscular cramps. These symptoms don’t just cause physical discomfort; they may also increase the risk of workplace injuries by taking a worker’s attention away from the task at hand, and this is a major concern,” said Kavanagh.

Workers are also encouraged to wear loose clothing, as it allows air to circulate and facilitates the evaporation of sweat. Employers are urged to watch for signs of heat stroke, which include cessation in sweating, high body temperature, and hot and dry skin. Confusion and loss of consciousness can also occur. If a worker is suffering from heat stroke, they must be treated by a doctor as soon as possible.

Until medical treatment is available, the worker should be cooled down as quickly as possible by soaking clothing in cold water and increasing air movement by fanning.

“Apart from the serious medical concerns arising from heat stroke, the effects of extreme or sustained heat can seriously affect a worker’s concentration levels, and the consequences of this can also be very serious,” said Kavanagh.

Image credit: © saeheng

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