With the summer months now upon us, it is vitally important to pay particular attention to managing the risks associated with working in the heat, from taking preventative measures to being prepared to administer first aid if required.
The risks associated with physically demanding activities undertaken outdoors can be amplified when working in the heat – and, from climbing trees to tree felling to operating equipment such as wood chippers, stump grinders and chainsaws, vigilance is required.
In its Managing the risks of working in heat guide, Safe Work Australia notes that common effects of working in the heat include: heat rash, heat cramps, fainting, dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, burns, slips, reduced concentration and increased chemical uptake into the body.
Of course, preparation is critical in contributing to safe working operations – and, according to the manner of work being undertaken, from operating machinery to manually pruning and trimming, there are a number of factors to take into account when working in the heat.
The Safe Work Australia guide advises that, as far as reasonably practicable, the following steps should be observed in managing risks:
- Identify the hazard – to determine if heat is a hazard, consider: air temperature, air flow, humidity, radiant heat sources, work requirements and the workplace itself, canvassing a range of relevant opinions, from workers to other businesses
- Assess the risk – helping to determine how severe the risk is, whether existing control measures are effective, what action should be taken to control the risk and how urgently it needs to be taken. In assessing the risk, the hazard’s impact and likelihood of causing harm should be considered
- Control the risk – do everything reasonably practicable to eliminate risks (and, if not, minimise risks), such as cancelling certain tasks or rescheduling activities for cooler times of the day
- Review the control measures – ensuring that they are working as planned and are not introducing new, uncontrolled risks
The guide also provides a rundown of the symptoms and first aid treatment for common heat-related illnesses – and, of course, having the appropriate equipment on hand and knowing what steps to take is extremely important.
It is certainly worthwhile consulting the guide for specific information on each of these steps, and to consider how they apply to specific sites and projects, with the guide available at the Safe Work Australia website: www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/.
Use The Tools At Your Disposal
Every site and project is different, and it is important to use the range of tools at your disposal and to assess specific circumstances in determining how much of a factor heat will be, and to then take the appropriate steps.
For instance, consulting short and long-term weather forecasts can help you to plan ahead, assisting in potentially scheduling more intense manual labour for cooler times of the day and incorporating regular breaks.
Meanwhile, in extreme conditions it may be better for more experienced staff to tackle demanding tasks that require greater concentration, and to opt for machine solutions instead of physically demanding manual labour where feasible
In determining how to manage risks, it is important to maintain open communication, assessing conditions on an ongoing basis, and it is certainly worthwhile consulting the range of consultation and risk management materials available at the Safe Work Australia website.
In our next instalment in this series we will look at the importance of preparing a Health and Safety Policy for a small business and the risks of being non-compliant.