October 23 2015


Keep your cool

With summer upon us, the construction industry is being urged to keep its cool as we prepare for a host of new construction projects and summer’s scorching temperatures.

It is easy to underestimate the risks of heat stress and employers and employees should start thinking now about ways of minimising the risk of overheating.

Heat stress is the total heat burden to which the body is subjected, both internally and externally.

It depletes the body’s fluids which can lead to tiredness, irritability, muscular cramps and inattention. This could increase the risk of an incident in the workplace. Heat stress can also lead to a range of medical conditions, the most severe of which – heat stroke – can be fatal if not treated immediately.

Remember that a person suffering from heat induced effects may not be aware of it themselves.

Heat rash

A rash appears when the perspiration glands get clogged, but the body continues to perspire.  This is a sign of diminished cooling capacity.

If this condition appears, drink only water — especially avoid tea and coffee.

Be especially alert to further heat stress.

After work, shower in lukewarm water to help open the pores.  Raise your water intake to help prevent a recurrence.

Heat cramps

These can result from drinking too much plain water under extreme exertion and perspiration.  The result is a deficiency in phosphorus, sodium, or other minerals the body needs.

There is no need to drink copious quantities of Gatorade or other sugary drinks, nor is there a need to take handfuls of salt tablets.  When you get heat cramps, it is due to a minor imbalance and you need only a minor intake of the necessary minerals to restore balance.  Use moderation.

Some massage of the cramped muscles will speed up relief.

Heat exhaustion

This is characterised by clammy skin and usually dizziness.

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body cannot perspire enough to cool its core temperature.

If you feel you are suffering from heat exhaustion, ask someone near you for help.  You may be tempted to “wait until a break” or walk to the first aid room by yourself, but don’t do that.  In this condition, you could easily faint and suffer additional injury.

If a fellow employee believes you are suffering from heat exhaustion, follow their simple instructions and move to a cooler place where you can sit or lie down and begin to recover. You may not realize you are showing symptoms that are apparent to others.

The employee should loosen his or her clothing a bit to allow additional airflow.

Give the patient some water and get them to sip it slowly.  Don’t let them gulp it down as doing so may cause vomiting or bring on heat cramps.

Report the situation to your first-aid officer.

Prevention of Heat Stress

Heat stress is an occupational hazard associated with working outdoors.  Generally, unprotected normal skin burns after only 10 minutes in the summer sun.

To reduce the risk of heat stress & sunburn:
  • Wear protective clothing, such as a wide brim hat, long sleeves & pants, sun glasses & sun screen
  • Replace fluid loss by drinking water at regular intervals
  • Rest in a cool place with some type of air circulation
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle 

Heat stroke

This is characterised by dry hot skin and sometimes a bluish skin colour.

This is extremely serious, and can easily result in brain damage or death.  A speedy response can mean the difference between life and death.

Cool the victim as quickly as possible, with wet towels or water.  Do not use really cold water.

If you are alone with the victim, call for help as soon as the victim is starting to cool.  If there are others, have someone call an ambulance and report a heat stroke in progress.  Do not wait for your supervisor or anyone else to arrive.

Give the victim something to drink, if he or she is able to swallow and get them to sip it slowly.  Do not let the victim have anything other than water or a thirst quencher to drink.  Especially avoid tea, coffee or alcohol.  Do not let the victim gulp down fluids.

The commencement of a number of construction projects, both within capital cities and regional areas is likely to see an increase in the number of local construction and fly-in/fly out workers. For these workers, acclimatising to the region’s hot, humid conditions will be a big issue, especially as many will be spending their leave in much cooler areas.

Employers need to be mindful of this and develop procedures to assist workers in the transition, along with managing metropolitan area based workers.

WorkSafe figures showed that over the past five years 90 people had been compensated for heat stress-related injuries and that 27 per cent of these involved lost work days.

Regular breaks, the provision of shaded areas, appropriate PPE (long/light clothing, sun cream, wide brim hats etc) along with a steady supply of cool and clean water should be the minimum employers should supply to their workers exposed to the sun and hot work environments.

For more information on heat stress and sun exposure management, or any other OSH inquiry, please do not hesitate to contact Safety Solutions WA.