I’m sure we are not surprised but it looks like Australia is heading into what is predicted to be a warmer than average summer, a recent study has found workers are significantly more likely to suffer injuries in hot weather, especially during the first few days of a heatwave.
Researchers from a major workplace health and safety agency and two universities analysed all occupational injuries sustained by some 20,000 construction workers between 2000 to 2013, and found the average injury rate of about 2.8 injuries per 10,000 workers per day increased to 3.2 on “summer days”, where temperatures rose above 25 degrees. During the first two days of heatwave events – where the temperature rose above 35 degrees on three or more consecutive days – the injury rate jumped to 3.57 injuries per 10,000 workers per day, before falling slightly to 3.43 on the third day.
Now, this is not an Australian study so before everyone goes crazy about 35 being considered a heatwave, the same theory applies no matter the level of heat you are used too, if it’s a bit abnormal or high then it affects people. The findings do highlight the importance of organisations actively implementing appropriate weather procedures and guidelines, and ensuring heat stress countermeasures like warning systems and suspending activities at worksites are enacted promptly.
Younger workers should receive training on the importance of complying with weather procedures and to form appropriate habits like taking in enough fluids, wearing appropriate clothing and being fit for work. Their lake of knowledge about working in heat increases their risk of exposure to heat stress and they should be monitored by more experienced workers.
Last week, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology warned that daytime temperatures during the October to January period are “very likely to be above average over virtually all of Australia”.
High temperatures can affect cognition, hamper concentration, reduce vigilance and increase fatigue. This presents greater challenges in workplace health and safety, especially among outdoor workers like construction or farm workers, this is why it’s important to assess the risks and make sure you have procedures in place for extreme weather.
Depending on the adequacy of their health and safety training, many workers continue to work beyond safe heat exposure limits because they are unaware of the risks; they also tend to reduce personal protective equipment use, increasing the risk of exposure incidents, this might make sense as the sweat pools in your safety glasses but it doesn’t mean you should stop using them.
To Do List leading into Summer:
- Make sure you have looked at your business’s risk areas and assessed the risks.
- Make sure you have procedures for working in heat.
- Make sure your workers are trained in the procedures.
- Monitor the weather and make sure workers are informed if the weather is expected to be unusually hot.
Every business is different and there really is no simple way to deal with this but the most important part is to be prepared, heat stress kills.