Despite a wetter than average year, workplaces in Queensland still need to plan ahead now to protect workers from heat related illness and meet their duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
In addition to temperature and humidity, some risk factors which also need to be taken into consideration include:
- exposure to direct and reflected sunlight, especially during the hottest parts of the day
- amount of air movement such as natural and forced, in open or confined workspaces
- radiant temperature of surroundings (environment, plant and equipment)
- clothing breathability and whether it inhibits the evaporation of sweat
- personal protective equipment worn by the worker
- physical manual work such as metabolic heat load, type and duration
- hydration level of workers, access to cool rest areas and their acclimatisation status (recent exposure to working in heat)
- worker factors including fitness levels, medical conditions, medications and understanding heat risk factors (signs and symptoms of heat induced illnesses).
These conditions can change daily and risk assessment should be conducted regularly. The consequences of not managing risks can include permanent injury and death.
To assist businesses to meet their obligations, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has a Heat stress (basic) calculator to assist with undertaking initial risk assessments. The WHSQ Heat stress webpage provides further risk assessment and control information. The Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.57 MB) also provides guidance for managing risks.
In 2021 a North Queensland company was fined $100,000 for failing to comply with its health and safety duties when a worker died from multiple organ failure due to heat related illness. A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation identified there was no nearby area provided for workers to rest and shade themselves from direct exposure to the sun, and that the trailer and conveyor attachment used by the workers did not have shade structures installed in them.
In 2020 a sole trader was fined $65,000 after a worker collapsed and died as a result of heat related illness at a farm in North Queensland. An investigation by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland revealed the defendant’s system for instructing his workers, particularly new workers, was inadequate with regard to heat related illness, with insufficient information on the need for hydration and nutrition to alleviate the effects of working in a hot and humid environment.
The investigation also revealed the defendant did not consider whether there was a need to provide or organise shelter for his workers at clients’ farms or to organise and plan how the picking work could be undertaken outside the hottest period of the day.