News 10 October 2019

Preparing for a hot summer at work

As Australia heads into what is predicted to be a warmer than average summer, a timely study has found workers are significantly more likely to suffer injuries in hot weather, especially during the first few days of a heat wave.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology recently warned that daytime temperatures during the October to January period are “very likely to be above average over virtually all of Australia”.

Italian researchers from a major workplace health and safety agency and two universities analysed all occupational injuries sustained by some 20,000 construction workers between 2000 to 2013, and found the average injury rate of about 2.8 injuries per 10,000 workers per day increased to 3.2 on “summer days”, where temperatures rose above 25 degrees.

During the first two days of heat wave events – where the temperature rose above 35 degrees on three or more consecutive days – the injury rate jumped to 3.57 injuries per 10,000 workers per day, before falling slightly to 3.43 on the third day.

“Our data confirm previous reports from the construction industries that extreme weather may be associated with increased risk of occupational injuries, particularly at the beginning of heat wave events,” the researchers say.

They suggest workers might initially unsafely overlook uncomfortable weather conditions, particular during summer, until persistent exposure to high temperatures elicits “more cautious conduct”.

The findings highlight the importance of organisations actively implementing appropriate weather procedures and guidelines, and ensuring heat stress countermeasures like warning systems and suspending activities at work sites are enacted promptly, the researchers say.

According to the Italian researchers, climate change-related rises in temperature have been associated with a “significant surge” of extreme weather events like heatwaves that expose more of the world’s population to “Mediterranean-like climates”.

“High temperatures can affect cognition, hamper concentration, reduce vigilance and increase fatigue. Working during warm weather would ultimately increase the risk of mistakes, accidents and injuries,” they say.

This presents greater challenges in occupational health and safety, especially among outdoor workers, the researchers say.

Depending on the adequacy of their health and safety training, many workers continue to work beyond safe heat exposure limits because they are unaware of the risks; they also tend to reduce personal protective equipment use due to being hot and uncomfortable, increasing the risk of exposure incidents, they say.

Workers might also lack knowledge around preventative measures, like avoiding the hottest parts of the day for strenuous tasks and increasing water intake, they add.

REFERENCE: Air temperatures and occupational injuries in the construction industries: a report from Northern Italy (2000–2013). Matteo Riccò, et al, Italy, Industrial Health, online first September 2019, doi:10.2486/indhealth.2018-0268.


How we can assist

The Victorian Chamber’s Health Safety and Wellbeing team are highly qualified and experienced in reviewing, preparing and improving your safe work procedures and practices for the coming hot summer, and upskilling your staff in these complex safety management needs.

For more information and support for this area of HSW consulting, training and other support please contact us on 03 8662 5333 or to discuss your needs.

Media Contact

All media enquiries may be directed to the Media and Communications Manager

03 8662 5310

0423 883 945

For all other enquiries please contact the Victorian Chamber on 03 8662 5333

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