Heat fatigue is one of the risks that we need to be aware of, especially during the months to come as temperatures will continue to soar. WorkCover NSW is now reminding businesses and workers to take the necessary precautions to prevent fatigue and heat stroke.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) predicted that hot weather conditions will continue across NSW over the next few days and businesses and employees need to be prepared.
John Watson, the General Manager of WorkCover’s Work Health and Safety Division said that the Bureau was predicting day time temperatures in the low to high 30Cs for the next few days. Business owners need to be prepared to avoid heat illnesses and fatigue amongst workers, which itself can be a hazard.
Fatigue and heat stress can affect worker’s health as well as make it difficult for them to work adequately and safely. Mr Watson went on to explain:
“Fatigue and heat stress can affect a worker’s health, reducing their performance and productivity, and increasing the chance of a workplace injury through the reduced ability to concentrate, recognise risks and communicate effectively.
“Businesses and workers should work in partnership to protect themselves from the effects of working in heat.
Mr Watson recommended re-scheduling work to cooler times of the day to avoid heat stress.
“If it is not possible, ensure workers have access to plain drinking water, at least 200mL every 15-20 minutes, shaded rest areas and frequent rest breaks.”
He said heat-related illnesses can cause death.
“In the three years to July 2011, there were 497 claims for workplace fatigue and heat stroke at a cost of $4.3 million,” he said.
Surprising to some people is the fact that heat stress and illnesses caused by heat exposure have the potential to be deadly.
Heat exhaustion is one part of the spectrum of heat-related illnesses that begin with heat cramps, progress to heat exhaustion, and finally to heat stroke.
Because the body cools itself by sweating and allowing that sweat to evaporate, this requires enough fluid in the body to make sweat, air circulating across the skin and low enough air humidity to allow that sweat to evaporate.
Activity in a hot environment can overwhelm the body’s ability to cool itself, causing heat-related symptoms and a number of people have in the past died in this manner.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion to look out for include profuse sweating, weakness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, lightheadedness and muscle cramps.
Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke when the body’s temperature regulation fails. You can recognise this in someone whose mental ability is impaired, they demonstrate confusion, become lethargic and may suffer a seizure. The person’s skin stops sweating and the body temperature goes extremely high. This condition is life-threatening and emergency medical attention is needed immediately to avoid death.
This is just one of the consequences of working in the heat and sun. Other consequences include skin cancer from direct sunlight with proper protection.