17/01/2023

The Australian summer is notoriously hot, exposing workers to the dangers of extreme heat.

But how hot is too hot? Unfortunately, Work Health and Safety laws in Australia do not specify a ‘stop work’ temperature.

While this is cold comfort for many, employers still have a duty of care to ensure they are not putting their workers’ health and safety at risk.

Some workplaces include a heat clause in their employment agreements so it might pay to read the fine print before signing on for the job.

For workplaces that do not have this clause, employers are still required to follow the WHS laws and provide a safe work environment.

What are the dangers of working in high temperatures?

People who work in the sun are regularly exposed to temperatures well above 40 degrees during summer in many parts of Australia.

This work is extremely dangerous and can lead to serious illness and even death.

Heat illness occurs when the body absorbs more heat from the environment than it can physically shed through perspiration or other cooling mechanisms.

These illnesses include heat stroke and heat stress.

Read our seven tips to survive a hot day at work if you’re struggling to get through the day.

Causes of heat-related illness include:

  • exposure to direct sunlight, especially during the hottest parts of the day with no shade relief
  • strenuous work for long periods in hot conditions
  • exposure to reflected heat from construction materials, polished aluminium and glass, or heat build-up in roads and concrete structures
  • exposure to additional heat from machinery.

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How do I know if I have a heat-related illness?

Symptoms of heat-related illnesses include:

  • dehydration
  • sunburn
  • reduced concentration
  • vomiting or feeling nauseous
  • feeling dizzy or weak
  • feeling clumsy, lightheaded and/or faints.

Other factors that may contribute to heat-related problems at work include:

  • inadequate cooling off or rest periods and insufficient water consumption
  • climatic conditions (low air movement, high humidity, high air temperature and high radiant heat)
  • inappropriate clothing (non-breathable materials)
  • individual medication that may affect the body’s temperature regulation
  • things that may cause dehydration such as poor diet, vomiting, diarrhoea or excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • individual medical conditions such as heart problems, diabetes and hypertension
  • increasing age, poor general physical fitness or being overweight
  • new workers that are not acclimatised or young workers who underestimate risks
  • workers not recognising symptoms of heat related illness.

Visit our Heat & UV page for further information on working in heat and employers responsibilities for managing the risks associated with heat stress.

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