Long hot summer - heat stress in your business

The mighty Australian summer is now upon us. Before conditions really heat up, it is important to consider the importance of managing employees’ health during extreme heat in order to avoid potentially dangerous heat-related illnesses.

What is it?

Heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke, arise when the body’s internal organs cease to function properly due to excessive heat burden. The symptoms of heat-related illnesses may start out relatively mild, but failing to address them can lead to serious harm.

An excessive heat burden is caused by a combination of the environment, type of work being performed and an individual’s susceptibility to heat. Consequently, basic prevention measures to mitigate the risk depend on the type of work being performed, but generally include ensuring adequate cold water is available, providing shade where possible when working outdoors and wearing suitable clothing

Common indicators that a person is suffering from a heat-related illness include dehydration, headaches, disorientation, fatigue and hallucinations.

What to do?

If employees start to display symptoms of heat-related illness, it is essential that they be removed from duty immediately and First Aid should be provided. For a start, the victim should be removed to a well shaded and ventilated area, provided with cold drinking water, and given a chance to rest. An affected employee must not return to work until they have displayed signs of recovery (set out below), and if possible, been assessed as fit by a qualified First Aid provider. Resumption of duties prior to full recovery may cause long term damage to the sufferer’s health, including internal organ damage. 

Additionally, employees suffering from headaches and difficulties concentrating are more prone to mistakes, which poses an additional, separate risk of physical harm to the individual and the other employees.

Recovery

Initial indications that a sufferer is recovering from heat-related illness include reduced sweating, increased ability to concentrate (especially the ability to hold a conversation), and skin that is cool and moist.

The affected employee must not recommence duties without first consuming a significant amount of fluids, preferably water.

What if heat is unavoidable?

If environmental factors make heat-related illnesses an unavoidable risk, it may be appropriate and necessary to alter work hours (if possible) to avoid the hottest hours of the day, or modify work areas to improve ventilation or dissipate heat, both from the sun and from heat-producing machinery.

If you are concerned about the impact of the summer heat on your employees, call Sync or Swim for advice on mitigating the potential dangers heat can pose.

Information contained in this article is general in nature, and is not offered as advice specific to your business. If you think the topics discussed in this document could be relevant to your business, please contact Sync or Swim or your accountant.