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Worker comfort means greater productivity

31-08-2010
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Employers have legal responsibilities to implement risk control measures to safeguard employees against harm arising from heat or cold while at work.

An employer must ensure that adequate ventilation and air movement is provided in indoor environments that may become hot.

Having assessed the workplace conditions and risks, action must now be taken to ensure that heat and cold related risks are controlled. Listed below are steps to consider when looking at the situation in your workplace.

Every workplace is different, and these risk controls may or may not be the right ones for you.

Risk controls that address the source of a health and safety problem will always prove most effective. If exposure to heat or cold can be reduced without relying on procedures and the use of PPE, control efforts are likely to prove more effective.

Hot environments

The best way to control body temperature in hot environments is to encourage the evaporation of sweat from the surface of the body. Evaporation is highest when humidity is low and the air movement is high.

If any worker experiences significant symptoms of heat stress, corrective action must be taken and assistance must be provided without delay, regardless of any temperature reading.

Steps to consider for outdoor hot conditions

  • Provide and encourage the use of mechanical aids (such as tractors, forklifts, electric saws, mechanical lifters).
  • Provide shade where possible, at least for rest periods.
  • Monitor temperature, humidity and workers’ physical response to environmental conditions.
  • Inform and train employees to recognise symptoms of heat-related illness.
  • Allow workers to acclimatise to hot conditions over a period of time.
  • Provide frequent rest breaks and/or rotate duties to allow people to cool down.
  • Consider work-rest regimes.
  • Schedule heavy work and tasks that require the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE), for cooler times of day (or year).
  • Provide fluids and encourage workers to make up for body fluid lost through sweating.
  • A useful “rule of thumb” is that workers should drink at least half a litre of water each hour if hot environments result in excessive sweating.
  • Provide a fresh water supply for washing and external cooling eg. wet towels.
  • Develop first aid and emergency procedures – and make sure they are understood.

Steps to consider for indoor hot conditions

  • Provide and encourage the use of mechanical aids (such as tractors, forklifts, electric saws, mechanical hoists).
  • Isolate workers from heat sources.
  • Remove heat by exhausts or other sources to the outside of the building.
  • Ventilate the work area to provide a flow of cool (or cooled) air. This is particularly important where hot work processes generate radiant heat or high humidity.
  • Use fans to circulate airflow (eg. overhead ceiling fans).
  • Reduce heat from plant and processes as far as possible by insulating plant, pipes, walls or roofs to minimise radiant heat.
  • Monitor temperature, humidity and workers’ physical response to environmental conditions.
  • Organise the work so those tasks requiring greater physical exertion or that require the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) are undertaken in cooler periods within the working shift. Also, provide rest breaks.
  • Rotate work in hot conditions to limit the exposure of individual employees.
  • Inform and train employees to recognise symptoms of heat-related illness.
  • Develop first aid and emergency procedures – and make sure they are understood.
  • Provide ready access for employees to fluids and encourage workers to make up for body fluid lost through sweating. A useful “rule of thumb” is that workers should drink at least half a litre of water each hour if hot environments result in excessive sweating.
  • Provide PPE for workers exposed to radiant heat and flames such as face shields, appropriate clothing, gloves etc.

Applying work-rest regimes to reduce heat risk

If the steps taken to manage hot working conditions have not sufficiently reduced risk to workers, then more comprehensive monitoring of the contributing factors should be undertaken.

This monitoring should be used to determine what corrective actions should be taken including short breaks, rotating duties, the use of a work-rest regime as part of additional risk controls, or reviewing the effectiveness of existing work-rest regimes.

When establishing a work-rest regime the level of physical activity required and whether the worker has already been acclimatised to the heat conditions are important factors. The rest periods will increase as heat stress factors increase.

There are established international standards that set out the rest periods that should be built into each hour for work in hot and cold environments.

Environmental conditions

  • Avoid working during periods of extreme temperature
  • Install heating devices in cold work environments
  • Install cooling devices and/or provide access to cooled areas in hot work environments
  • Provide shelter in hot work environments
  • Install ventilation and mechanical cooling devices in hot, confined work environments such as truck cabins
  • Provide adequate facilities for rest, sleep, meal breaks, onsite accommodation (if appropriate) and other essential requirements, such as bathroom facilities
  • Install adjustable, vibration-free seats in appropriate machinery and vehicles, and
  • Ensure the workplace and surroundings are well lit, safe and secure.

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