What should a heat stress policy contain? How long should it be? What should it focus on?

Heat stress policies and procedures come in all shapes and sizes, but cover these nine key elements and you’ll be on the right track.

1. Training
Training is vital. Someone who can recognise the early symptoms of heat stress and knows what action to take is far less likely to become a statistic. Just as importantly, they’ll also be able to spot tell-tale signs of trouble in a work mate.

2. Water Replacement
When it comes to heat stress management, water replacement is not optional, it’s absolutely essential.

3. Self-Determination (Self-Pacing)
Every worker is unique and their physiology changes from day to day, depending on the environment and circumstances of the job. Workers need to be allowed to pace themselves by working to the conditions and resting when they need to.

4. Work Scheduling
Too often, hard physical labour is planned for the hottest part of a summer’s day. Factoring the season and likely work conditions is a must when scheduling outages and maintenance, and should be a key aspect of the planning process – particularly in Australia’s hotter regions.

5. Clothing
Despite the debate over long pants and sleeves versus shorts, length actually contributes little to heat load and heat stress while reducing the risks of cuts, abrasions, burns, and particularly skin cancer. The important attributes for workwear are air flow (i.e. vents, mesh materials), colour, and insulating properties. (Colour has an impact on cloth temperature and this can transfer to the wearer’s skin. But, it’s more important that the air can circulate underneath the clothing to evaporate the sweat and cool the skin. Bring on the kilt!)

6. Controls
Identify and where necessary adopt appropriate control measures, such as air flow, portable shade, insulating shields for radiant heat, and mechanical aids to reduce workers’ metabolic load.

7. Acclimatisation
It can take weeks to acclimatise to working in consistently high temperatures conditions. (In fact, it can take several days to re-acclimatise when returning from a cooler climate after an extended break.) Rosters need to reflect the need to acclimatise, particularly in our hotter regions.

8. Assessment
Rather than simply taking and recording a single heat reading, assessment means using the right assessment tools to identify practical control measures which address a given scenario and environment, and not just work/rest regimes.

9. Medical Screening and Surveillance
Individuals exposed to extreme climates should be screened for underlying medical conditions that might prevent them working in high temperatures. They should also be monitored and urine specific gravity monitoring can be a useful tool in some circumstances.

Heat can impact heavily on the health and productivity of any workforce. Whatever form your heat stress policy takes, it’s an essential first step in ensuring this potential killer is managed and controlled effectively.

Dr Ross Di Corleto
Occupational Hygienist, Adjunct Associate Professor

Dr Ross Di Corleto is a noted Australian authority on the impact of heat in the workplace. He is a member of the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH), he co-authored the AIOH booklet, ‘Documentation of the Heat Stress guide Developed for Use in the Australian Environment’.

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