Heat waves have killed more Australians than any other natural disaster in the past 200 years. Some Australian cities such as Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide, have experienced significant deaths in heat events since the turn of the century. In 2009, 173 people perished in the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria. During that same week – where the maximum daily temperature was 46.4 degrees Celsius in Melbourne – more than 370 people died from extreme heat in Victoria.
Workers operating in hot and humid conditions are at risk of heat stress and need to be well aware of heat hazards in the workplace and the associated symptoms. Heat stress occurs when the body cannot sufficiently cool itself. The body naturally reacts to heat by increasing blood flow to the skin’s surface and sweating. Sweat evaporation promotes cooling and an increase in blood flow means heat is carried to the surface of the body and released.
“Workers operating in hot and humid conditions without appropriate clothing can be susceptible to heat stress related illness because sweat evaporation is restricted, impairing the body’s cooling mechanism and contributing to a rise in the body’s core temperature and heart rate”. Symptoms can range from weakness, dizziness and fainting to heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.”
People working in places with poor ventilation and higher temperatures needed to be educated on how to recognise heat stress symptoms and minimise the risks associated with such symptoms.
Occupations that are more at risk include miners, factory workers, fire-fighters, farmers and construction workers. Workers operating in these industries need to wear body cooling systems made from materials that allow the body to breathe. Chill-Its Evaporative Cooling Vest features activated polymer-embedded fabric on the inside and a water repellent liner. The vest remains hydrated for up to four hours and provides effective cooling relief for workers. Chill-Its Evaporative Cooling Towel is also another option as it features advanced PVA material that activates in plain water to remain significantly cooler than ambient air temperature and is super absorbent.
Implementing a comprehensive heat stress management plan that includes appropriate breaks, a healthy diet, regular fluid consumption and the use of protective clothing is vital in ensuring employees remain comfortable and productive at work. It could be something as simple as scheduling a more strenuous job to a cooler part of the day or assigning more workers to one job to reduce the physical demand on each worker. Heat stress is a serious issue that can be life-threatening so employers need to do their very best to ensure workers are protected.