Workplace injuries and fatalities from heat stress are avoidable. Often prevention measures are simple, yet serious heat-related injuries and fatalities occur because clear warnings signs went unheeded.

The first ‘billboard’ is general fatigue and lethargy, followed by a loss of coordination and fine motor skills. Then, as productivity begins to suffer, lapses in concentration can lead to mistakes and accidents.

Ignore these early signs and you could quickly find yourself in dangerous territory.


Factors behind heat stress

The human body’s normal body temperature is 36.8 (plus or minus 0.4°C), but an increase of just 2-3°C in our core temperature can be potentially life threatening.

Early signs of heat stress appear when core body temperature is between 37-39 °C. At 40°C we can experience heat stroke, while death can occur at 42°C.

The factors of heat stress are temperature, humidity, air movement (or lack of it), the radiant temperature of the surroundings, the type of clothing being worn, and the level of physical activity.

But, everyone’s different: How quickly we progress to heat stress depends on our age, general health, weight and physical fitness, hydration level, and degree of acclimatization. Certain drugs – both illicit and medicinal – can also interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature.


Preventing heat injuries

Everyone has a role to play in preventing heat-related workplace illnesses by recognising the signs of heat illness and knowing what steps to take if they (or a mate) are in trouble.

For managers, the key to successfully managing heat risks in the workplace is recognising that given their differing shapes, ages, and medical conditions, individuals will have different heat stress thresholds in any given situation.

If you’re tasked with assessing the risk of heat in your workplace, try this systematic three-step approach:

  1. Conduct a thermal risk assessment of your workplace
  2. Measurement of environmental and personal heat parameters
  3. Implement controls and monitor effectiveness

For further readings visit The Thermal Environment

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Heat Stress Poster
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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