With the Bureau of Meteorology predicting above average daytime temperatures for North Queensland for the rest of 2021, Queensland employers need to plan ahead now to protect workers from heat stress hazards.
Recently, a North Queensland company was fined $100,000 for failing to comply with its health and safety duties when a foreign 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.
Workers must be provided with training on risk factors and controls, heat and sun protection, as well as having general sun safety tips explained to them. If they have trouble understanding, or are concerned they're working in an unsafe, hot environment, workers should be encouraged to speak up. Employers must ensure workers wear protective gear, including a hat and sunscreen, take adequate breaks, seek shade and keep hydrated to prevent heat exhaustion, heat stroke, fainting and cramps. Employers also need a plan and resources in place to respond to heat related incidents.
To assist businesses meet their obligations, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has a Heat stress (basic) calculator tool on its website to identify and manage risks of heat-induced illness. As well, Managing the work environment and facilities Code of Practice 2013 (PDF, 0.57 MB) provides guidance for managing the risks associated with outdoor work.
Heat stress risk is not just related to temperature – there are a combination of factors which contribute to heat-related problems at work, including:
- exposure to direct sunlight, especially during the hottest part of the day
- exposure to reflected heat from construction materials, polished aluminium and glass
- carrying out strenuous tasks or work for sustained long periods
- exposure to additional heat from machinery
- inadequate cooling off, rest periods or insufficient water consumption
- climatic conditions (low air movement, high humidity, high temperature)
- type of clothing and personal protective equipment worn
- factors that may cause dehydration, such as poor diet, vomiting, diarrhoea or alcohol and caffeine consumption.