Working in the hot Australian sun can be dangerous. Although studies show that Australia has surprisingly fewer work-related heat stress fatalities than other nations — such as the United States — many Australian adults are affected by heat stroke at work each year.
Heat stress is a significant enough problem to concern employers. It’s a medical emergency, and people experiencing it should receive medical attention. The best way to address that problem is to recognise heat stress symptoms and have a plan of action in place for the overall safety of your employees.
This article discusses the causes of heatstroke at work and practical steps employers can take to prevent heatstroke injury or death.
The Importance of Spotting Heat Stress Symptoms
As a business owner or people manager, you must keep workers and your workplace safe from the risks of working in the heat.
According to Safe Work Australia, the human body must consistently maintain an average temperature of around 37 degrees Celsius to be healthy, even when working in the heat. If not monitored, your workers may suffer from heat-related illness if the body has to work too hard to keep cool or it starts to overheat.
The best way to ensure that your workers stay healthy on the job and don’t suffer from heatstroke is to recognise the signs of heat stress. Let’s take a look at some common heat stress symptoms.
What Are The Most Common Heat Stress Symptoms?
Heat stress doesn’t necessarily only affect outdoor workers or even those who undertake heavy manual labour. Heat stress can affect workers in a variety of settings.
Knowing the most common heat stress symptoms will help you spot when your workers are unwell and prevent further health problems from developing.
According to the Australian Red Cross, some of the most common heat stress symptoms include:
- High body temperature of more than 40 degrees Celsius
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle spasms
- Exhaustion and general weakness
- Fainting (heat syncope)
- Nausea or vomiting
According to Work Safe Australia, heat stress has many symptoms that can result from several contributing factors, including the following:
- Wearing high levels of personal protective equipment (i.e. hazmat suits)
- Heat from extremely hot or molten material (i.e. foundries)
- Steel mills
- Glass factories
- High humidity
- Restaurant kitchens
- Rising body heat from heavy manual work
Of course, the most common cause of heatstroke for anyone is sunshine. Therefore, if your workers mainly do outdoor work, you should be extra cautious and diligent about monitoring heatstroke symptoms. This includes jobs such as:
- Road repair
- Open-pit mining and agriculture
Luckily, heat stress and heat exhaustion in your employees are entirely preventable if you take the proper steps to protect them.
Steps to Take to Prevent Heatstroke
Just because it’s a hot Australian summer day, doesn’t mean that heatstroke is inevitable. By being proactive, you can reduce the chances of your workers experiencing heat injury and heat exposure.
To give you an idea of things you can do to prevent heat illness, here are the top three steps employers or businesses can take to prevent heat stroke at work:
1. Follow Australia’s Work Health and Safety (WHS) Legislation
The first step is to ensure that you meet Work Health and Safety (WHS) legislation and associated regulations to assess and manage risks to workers’ health.
In the following guide, you can find all the information you need in this regard about heat injury or heat exhaustion: Managing the risks of working in the heat.
2. Implement a “Working During Hot Weather” Policy
A “Working During Hot Weather” policy is vital for any business that carries out work during hot weather.
This policy should cover factors such as:
- How to identify signs that your staff are at risk of heat stress
- Your obligations as an employer
- How to report health-related issues at work
- A place for employees and employers to sign, so all parties agree to the policy.
Having a policy ensures that your employees and company are protected and gives you a plan of action in case one of your employees shows signs of heat stress symptoms.
3. Prepare Your Employees
The best way to reduce heat stress symptoms is to ensure that your workers know what they’re getting themselves into and are prepared.
If your company’s work does involve physical activity in the heat, it’s important to advise all employees and contractors of the dangers of working in the heat. This way, whoever enters your premises, building, or site knows the serious nature of working in a hot environment and not getting enough fresh air, cold water, or rest, or not acknowledging when their body temperature is affecting their ability to work.
Wrap-Up: Reduce Heat Stress Symptoms With A ‘Working During Hot Weather’ Policy
Heat stress symptoms can appear anytime and from several work-related causes. It’s essential to ensure that you follow WHS guidelines, have proper practices in place, and have a plan to protect your employees’ health and reduce your business’s liability.
No matter what type of business you have, you should implement a “Working During Hot Weather” policy if you have employees who do physical activity during hot weather, to meet the requirements set out by WHS legislation and other regulations.
Not sure how to complete a ‘Working During Hot Weather” policy? HRonHand has a handy one ready for you to download!