Working in heat is a widespread hazard, particularly in Australia where many workers are exposed to high temperatures. Workers at risk at Flinders University include those working outdoors, in plant-rooms and ceiling spaces, workshops and even office buildings in hot weather. Particularly during the summer months, staff working both outdoors and indoors are likely to experience heat stress unless preventative steps are taken.
Some Cost Centres have local rules for working in hot conditions.
Hot work causes heat stress when heat is being absorbed by the body faster than the body can cool down. Short term effects of heat stress:
- Increase the possibility of accidents (due to reduced concentration);
- Increase the discomfort of wearing protective equipment (and consequently discourage workers using such);
- Increase harmful effects of other workplace hazards, such as chemical vapours, noise, etc;
- Aggravate pre-existing illness or health conditions;
- Cause heat illness in workers.
Heat illness is the most obvious sign that people are working in excessive heat. It shows up as skin conditions (such as prickly heat), heat exhaustion (collapse or fainting), or as heat cramps. In severe cases, body temperature control systems break down altogether causing a rapid rise in temperature. This is called heat stroke and can be fatal.
When will heat stress occur?
In line with the recommendations of the Standards Association of Australia, 30°C is the temperature beyond which heat stress effects are likely to happen. However staff who are under medication or medical supervision but are fit to work, may require special consideration if they are affected by temperatures lower than 30°C (medical advice should always be sought in such cases).
Workplace factors affecting heat stress
Environmental factors include:
- ambient air temperature;
- movement of the air in the workplace;
- radiant heat from surroundings;
- processes or equipment producing heat;
- location of work (sun/shade)
- movement of worker in and around workplace;
Personal factors include:
- type of clothing worn;
- requirement for protective clothing/equipment to be used (remember that respirators reduce breathing efficiency and are actually "tiring" to use);
- manual labour or physical effort required for the job;
- state of health of the individual (age can also be a factor);
- experience and training of worker.