Staying safe when the heat is on

16 December 2021

With the weather starting to warm up, it is important for members to be aware that working in hot conditions brings potential risks to the health and safety of employees.

Summer can be uncomfortable or even dangerous because of the heat, humidity, burning sun and glare. Employers should plan ahead to minimise the hazards faced by employees through the summer months.

Under occupational health and safety legislation, there is no maximum temperature at which work should cease. Occupational health and safety laws require that an employer provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment for their employees that is safe and without risks to health. This general duty means that employers need to be aware of the potential hazards of working in hot conditions.

VACC recommends the provision of cool, clean drinking water for employees at work. In addition, it is also recommended that ventilation, mechanical cooling methods and/or work practices/scheduling should be arranged to counteract excessive heat.

Employers should minimise the risk of injury due to heat hazards by planning for the summer months. Some employees will feel discomfort in the heat, and their work performance may be affected. Signs of heat stress include:

  • mental or physical fatigue leading to errors
  • accidents arising from discomfort or non-use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • dizziness, headache, nausea
  • dehydration.

Due to heat discomfort, some employees may be reluctant to wear their PPE, including face masks as required under applicable COVIDSafe Plan obligations. While maintaining requirements to wear PPE, employers should consider allowing employees to wear loose fitting and lighter clothing, where potential entanglement hazards can be avoided, and it is otherwise practicable to do so.

Controlling the impact of a hot working environment
An employer should take into consideration the following suggestions to assist in managing heat stress, while ensuring consistency with any applicable COVIDSafe Plan requirements.

Enclosed workplaces:

  • air conditioning units should be switched on (if available)
  • roster changes (e.g. earlier start times to enable strenuous work to be performed in cooler parts of the day)
  • provision of cool drinking water
  • increase ventilation within the workplace such as fans or vents
  • shield, insulate or suppress indoor heat sources such as furnaces, pipes, ovens, and motors
  • regular breaks should be provided to give employees an opportunity to rehydrate.

Outdoor workplaces:

  • wide-brim hats, long sleeve shirts, full length pants and – if required – eye protection designed for outdoors should be supplied by the employer, and supervision provided to ensure employees use what is provided
  • sunscreen should be provided for regular application throughout the day, as required
  • provision of cool drinking water
  • roster changes (e.g. earlier start times to enable work to be performed in cooler parts of the day)
  • regular breaks should be provided to give employees an opportunity to rehydrate
  • provision of shaded work or rest areas.

As part of meeting an employer’s obligation to consult with employees on health and safety issues, members should consult with their employees about how they will deal with hot working conditions at their workplace. It is recommended that members do this ahead of the peak heat season and maintain records of all health and safety related consultation on file.

As featured in Workplace Update December 2021. For more information, members are encouraged to contact VACC Workplace Relations.

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