heat

Managing Summer based hazards

Summer is here in the southern hemisphere! As such, organisations in which workers work outdoors or inside factories or sheds, should now be considering how they plan to manage the following when working outdoors this summer:

  • Heat Stress

  • Hydration

  • Ultra-Violet (UV) Radiation

 

 

What is Heat Stress?

Heat stress occurs when the body cannot sufficiently cool itself. Factors that contribute to heat stress in summer may include ambient temperature, humidity, air-movement, radiant heat, inappropriate clothing, and physical exertion.

 

Signs and symptoms of heat illness include feeling sick, nauseous, dizzy or weak. Workers who experience heat illness may also feel clumsy, collapse or experience convulsions. If symptoms occur, workers should immediately seek first-aid or medical assistance, rest in a cool and well-ventilated area, and drink cool fluids.

 

Workplace health and safety laws require the working environment, so far as is reasonably practicable, to be safe and without risks to health and safety. This includes illness from working in heat. Please note that whilst articulated in this article, heat stress can occur all year round in work environments where hot work takes place.

 

 

Ways to Prevent Heat Stress

Heat stress can be minimised through the consideration and if possible, implementation of several controls. These include:

 

  • Rescheduling tasks to ensure that tasks with a greater physical requirement are performed during the cooler parts of the day.

  • Identifying methods to rotate between hot jobs or arranging/skilling more workers to share the job.

  • Identifying, then procuring, mechanical aids (or plant) that may reduce physical exertion, or eliminate the requirement to work in the heat.

  • Wearing light and loose-fitting clothing (preferably cotton) that provides adequate sun protection. Outdoor workers should be provided with PPE against UV radiation, such as wide brim hat, loose fitting, long-sleeved collared shirt and long pants, sunglasses and sunscreen.

  • Providing fans or installing air conditioners or coolers to reduce air temperature and generate/increase air movement. Increased air movement will support evaporative cooling.

  • Installing shade cloth, blinds or similar to reduce the radiant heat from the sun.

  • Establishing defined rest and hydration breaks.

  • Providing workers with information, instruction and training on heat- illness and on first aid.

 

Don’t Forget about Simple Hydration!

Providing cool drinking water near the work site should limit symptoms of heat stress.

 

During hot weather, workers should be encouraged to drink a cup of water (about 200 mL) every 20 minutes. The need for water intake may also be determined by the worker by the colour of their urine.

 

 

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Refresh your Memory on UV Radiation

UV Radiation is a known cause of cancer and can have several harmful effects on the skin.

 

Sun protection is required whenever the UV Index is 3 or higher, or when you are outside for long periods near highly reflective surfaces, e.g. snow or water.

 

The UV index describes the strength of the suns UV Radiation. The higher the number, the stronger the solar UV Radiation and the faster unprotected skin will be damaged.

 

If you work outside frequently, you should always use protective clothing including hats, sunglasses and sunscreen regardless of the UV Index. If you work outside occasionally, then you should use protection when the UV is 3 and above. A UV forecast for many locations is available from www.MyUV.com.au

 

A common misconception is that the temperature is directly related to the strength of the UV radiation. This is not the case. The takeaway? Don’t just wait for the hot day to protect your skin. The suns UV Radiation can still damage your skin in winter, autumn or spring.

 

For more on some of these topics, see our blogs on ways to avoid heat stress or about what kind of SPF rating you should be considering for your workers or even a little more info about hydration. Plus you might find our blog about Everything you need to know about Personal Protective Equipment a useful read.

Are you ensuring your workers are hydrated?

The arrival of the summer months, means the festive period quickly follows and consumes us all. This period also leads to a lot of people indulging in multiple alcoholic beverages and little amounts of water. When your workers return to work are you doing what you can to provide them with plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration?

 

Dehydration is what happens when you use or lose more fluid then you can take in and your body is unable to function effectively. This can occur after strenuous exercise, sickness, drinking too much alcohol, taking certain medicine such as diuretics, as a complication of diabetes or if enough water has not been consumed.

 

Some signs of dehydration can be a heightened thirst, dry mouth, lips and tongue, a headache, dark urine, dizziness or light-headedness, particularly when standing up.

 

If your workers are involved in more strenuous activities and/or are working outside in the extreme temperatures, then you need to be aware of what dehydration looks like, but also all ways to prevent dehydration from occurring in the first place!

 

So, some ideas;

 

IDEA 1

Providing a urine chart such as the one below for your workers can help them keep track of their hydration throughout the day and know how much more water they require if they are dehydrated. A chart like this easily be positioned in bathrooms or on noticeboards – if you would like us to send you one of our posters, contact us.

 

 

IDEA 2

Provide your workers with access to fluids – this may be via a water cooler, bottled water or pre-made hydration solutions. Don’t forget to provide them with a facility to keep their drinks cool, such as a fridge or ice if they are working outdoors. If you have workers working remote and pre-made solutions are not available or have run out within the business, another option is to place 6 teaspoons of sugar with half a teaspoon of salt in one litre of boiled water.

 

 

IDEA 3

Try reducing exposure to the heat. This means you can reduce sweating, which means, yes, you are also managing hydration. To do this, try adjusting the hours of work so that physically demanding work is completed at the cooler times of the day. Or provide access to shade – if work is being completed outside – or fans – if inside.

 

 

Learn more about the impact of heat stress or about what kind of SPF rating you should be considering for your workers through more of our blog articles.

Which SPF rating sunscreen should my workers be using?

These days, it seems like there are so many different SPF ratings of sunscreen on the market it’s hard to be sure of what it all means. SPF is actually a measure of sunscreens ability to prevent Ultra Violet B (UVB) from penetrating into and damaging the skin. It’s safe to say that the higher the number, the better job the sunscreen will do of this. In case you were hoping that the health and safety legislation would specify which SPF rating you should be using, well, we’re sad to inform it doesn’t.

 

But what the health and safety legislation does specify is that you must identify your workplace hazards, so these can be controlled, to allow you to provide a workplace that is safe for your workers. This means, if you have workers out in the sun, you need to protect them against UV rays so they don’t get sunburn – and melanoma down the track. So, if you do have workers working outdoors, how can this be controlled and what SPF should be being used? Let us give you the low down.

 

Actually, most sunscreens with an SPF rating of 15 or higher do an excellent job of shielding the skin from the harmful effects of the sun. When used properly, SPF15 protects the skin from 93% of UVB radiation. SPF30 is obviously going to be better and provides 97%. So, yep, you guessed it – the higher the better! And certainly either is better than nothing.

 

But it’s important to know that there is no single sunscreen will provide 100% coverage. So, along with the highest SPF rating sunscreen you can get your hands on, you should consider other methods to manage your workers time in the sun, like:

  • Providing UV protective, long-sleeved collared shirts, long pants, and hats.
  • Rescheduling tasks to ensure outdoor work is performed at the start of end of the day.
  • Providing access to shelter or shade.

 

And as a general rule of thumb, sunscreen won’t stay effective for longer than two hours without reapplication, regardless of the SPF rating. So, don’t forget to remind your workers of this, despite what the bottle might say!

 

Want to learn about mitigating other risks related to your staff working in the sun? Read our blog about ways to avoid heat stress. And if your business does need to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), like sunscreen, to manage sun related hazards, you might find our blog about Everything you need to know about Personal Protective Equipment a useful read.

 

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