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How to avoid and treat heat stress

With the hottest stretch of summer approaching this is a good time to review the symptoms of heat stress and look at how to treat it — and avoid it in the first place.

The warning signs of heat stress include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Clumsiness
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Slurred speech or blurred vision
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Painful muscles spasms or cramps
  • Cold and clammy skin

“It is everyone’s responsibility to look out for symptoms of heat stress in the workplace and act immediately if a worker appears to be affected,” SafeWork SA executive director Marie Boland says. “Workers should let someone know if they are feeling unwell.

At the greatest risk of heat illness are workers who drink a lot of alcohol, are unfit or overweight, are on certain medications, have a heart disease or are pregnant. A lack of acclimatisation, which takes seven to 10 days, also plays a part.

To reduce your risk, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland suggests you:

  • Have regular cooling off or rest periods
  • Drink plenty of water (that is, stay hydrated – a poor diet and consuming alcohol or caffeine can cause dehydration)
  • Wear appropriate clothing, such as loose-fitting clothing, which promotes good air circulation, or specialised liquid or air cooled clothing when working in extreme conditions.
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats whenever possible.

WorkSafe Victoria says that, on sites where safety helmets (hard hats) are mandatory, workers should attach sun protection accessories such as broad brims or Legionnaire covers with a peak and flaps at the back and sides.

“If a worker is feeling unwell in the heat they should rest in a cool area immediately and drink cool fluids,” Boland says. “If they do not recover quickly, seek medical attention straight away as they may be suffering from heat stroke.

The signs of heat stroke, which is a life-threatening condition, are cessation in sweating, high body temperature and hot and dry skin.  Confusion and loss of consciousness may also occur.

Until medical treatment is available, the person should be cooled down as quickly as possible by methods such as soaking clothing in cold water and increasing air movement by fanning.

SafeWork SA says it’s up to employers to ensure work environments pose no risk to health and safety.

The body, which will be undertaking random visits to South Australian workplaces this month to help manage the risks of working in extreme heat, says that there are a number of ways in which employers can minimise the risks posed by hot weather.

Among these are modifying workloads and scheduling them in the early morning to avoid the hottest times of day.

“This may include rotating work so that the hottest tasks are shared,” it says, “and providing extra rest breaks in cool areas. Other measures are increasing air movement using fans and isolating workers from hot processes or plant.”

The full list of measures can be seen here.


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