Overview

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Working in heat can cause harm to workers. For further information on the potential hazards and risks of working in heat in both outdoor and indoor workplaces, see the: 

Work health and safety duties

Everyone in the workplace has a WHS duty when it comes to working in heat:

  • Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU)
  • Designers, manufacturers, importers, suppliers or installers of plant or structures
  • Officers such as company directors
  • Workers
  • Other persons at the workplace.

For further information on the duties relating to managing the risks of working in heat see the Guide for managing the risks of working in heat.

Managing risks associated with working in heat

A PCBU must manage risks, so far as is reasonably practicable. The risk management process is discussed below.

Identifying hazards—find out what could go wrong and what could cause harm. The following can help identify the hazards of working in heat: 

  • Review work tasks, design and management. Monitor temperatures in the workplace, the type of work being carried out, the duration and how strenuous the work is. 
  • Ask your workers about any problems with heat that they have encountered at your workplace.
  • Review your incident and injury records.

Assessing risks if necessary—understand the nature of the harm each hazard could cause, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening. In many cases the risks and related control measures will be well known. In other cases, you may need to carry out a risk assessment to identify the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, the likelihood of somebody being harmed by the hazard and how serious it could be.

A risk assessment can help you determine what action you should take to control the risks and how urgently action needs to be taken.

Controlling risks—implement the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable in the circumstances and ensure they remain effective over time. When implementing controls, the first thing that should be considered is whether the hazard can be eliminated, for example through cancelling outdoor work when temperatures are high. 

Substitution, isolation and engineering controls should then be considered. For example:

  • substitute the hazard for something safer: for example, swap physical work for work that  can be done by a machine.
  • isolate the risk from workers: for example, by separating workers from hot machinery, and 
  • engineering controls: such as setting up shade tents outdoors and using air conditioners indoors. 

If a risk still remains, administrative control measures should be implemented.

Administrative control measures include processes such as training, instruction and supervision. For example, schedule work so that more physically demanding activities are completed in cooler parts of the day. 

Personal protective equipment should be used to control any remaining risks. For example, provide breathable and light clothing. 

The control measures you have implemented should be monitored and reviewed to ensure they remain effective.

Further information on the risk management process is in the Model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks.

FAQs for working in heat

Is there a maximum temperature where workers are required to stop work?

The model WHS laws do not specify a ‘stop work’ temperature. A single ‘stop work’ temperature would not capture the range of factors which make working in heat hazardous, including humidity, air flow, the physical intensity and duration of the work, and whether workers are physically fit and acclimatised to the conditions. 

Instead, the model WHS laws require you, as a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), to eliminate or minimise risks so far is reasonably practicable. This may include cancelling or rescheduling certain work tasks until conditions are cooler. 

You have obligations to provide and maintain a workplace that is without risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable. The model Code of Practice: Managing the work environment and facilities recommends that work be carried out in an environment where the temperature range is comfortable for workers and suits the work they carry out. Air temperatures that are too high can contribute to fatigue and heat-related illness. 

For more information on managing the risk of heat in your workplace, see the Guide for managing risks for working in heat. Information on managing risks in the work environment is available in the model Code of Practice: Managing the work environment and facilities

What are the risks of a heatwave, and how can those risks be managed?  

A heatwave occurs when the maximum and the minimum temperatures are unusually hot over at least a three-day period, in relation to the typical local climate and past weather. Heatwaves may pose additional risks to workers due to warmer nights contributing to reduced sleep quality and high temperatures being reached earlier in the day and lasting longer. Fatigue can affect workers’ ability to perform work safely and effectively. 

If there is a heatwave, as a PCBU you need to carry out additional risk assessments and determine which controls must be implemented to eliminate or minimise the risks, so far as is reasonably practicable. 

Potential controls include scheduling work to cooler parts of the day, minimising physical effort requirements and performing work in safer locations. You should ensure workers have access to cool fresh water, air-conditioning or fans (if possible) or access to shade for outside work. Where possible, you should not allow workers to work alone. If they must, then establish procedures for monitoring them and ensuring they can easily seek help. 

When working in heatwave conditions is necessary, you should plan tasks so workers are encouraged to self-pace their work where possible.

Your state or territory’s health and emergency services authorities can provide further information on the management of heatwaves in your state. The Bureau of Meteorology provides a heatwave service, where you can find information and forecasts for heatwaves in your area.

For more information on managing the risk of heat in your workplace, see the Guide for managing risks for working in heat and the Checklist for managing the risks of in heat in the workplace

What can workers do if the work is unsafe due to the heat?

In some circumstances, workers have a right to cease or refuse to carry out unsafe work. Workers have this right if they have a reasonable concern that they would be exposed to a serious risk to their health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard, such as illness due to exposure to heat. Workers must inform the workplace as soon as possible that they  have ceased work. Workers must also be available to carry out suitable alternative work.

Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) can direct a worker in their work group to cease unsafe work. HSRs can do this if:

  • they have a reasonable concern that a worker would be exposed to a serious risk to health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard, and
  • they have already consulted and attempted to resolve the issue with the business or undertaking for whom the workers are carrying out work (unless the risk is so serious and immediate or imminent that it is not reasonable to consult first).

HSRs must inform the workplace of any direction that has been given to cease unsafe work. HSRs can only direct that unsafe work cease if they have completed their initial training under the model WHS laws. 

For general guidance, see the Worker Representation and Participation Guide and for specific guidance on these rights, contact your local WHS regulator.

Prolonged or intense exposure to high temperatures can lead to heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps, dehydration, fainting and heat stroke. Heat-related illness occurs when your body is no longer able to maintain a healthy body temperature. 

People who are most at risk of heat related illness are young (under 25) and older workers, pregnant women, people with physical illness such as heart disease and workers who are not acclimatised to working in heat.

Heat-related illness is progressive and can be life threatening if left untreated. Supervising or training workers to recognise the common symptoms of heat-related illness may assist with more timely administration of first aid and seeking medical assistance. 

The symptoms of a heat-related illness may include:  

  • dizziness 
  • sweating 
  • visual disturbances 
  • fainting 
  • nausea, and
  • muscle cramps 

For a more detailed information on the symptoms and first aid for heat-related illness, including when to seek medical assistance, see the first aid fact sheet for heat-related illness.  

Are there risks for working in heat indoors? 

As a PCBU, you have duties under the model WHS laws to manage the risks of working in heat and protect worker health and safety in all work environments. Heat-related illness can arise from indoor work, including through exposure to high thermal radiation or high levels of humidity, such as those in foundries, commercial kitchens and laundries.

High air temperatures and humidity can contribute to fatigue and heat-related illnesses. The work environment should have a temperature range that is comfortable for workers and suits the work being carried out (i.e. sedentary work can generally be safely carried out in warmer temperatures than highly physical activity). The risk to the health of workers increases as conditions move further away from those generally accepted as comfortable. How to maintain a comfortable and safe temperature will depend on the working environment and weather.

The risk of heat-related illnesses indoors must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. Example control measures include increasing air movement using fans or installing air-conditioners or evaporative coolers. Where possible, schedule work to cooler parts of the day (for example, conduct work in hot places such as roof cavities first thing in the morning). Where possible, consider isolating workers from indoor heat sources; for example by insulating plant, pipes and walls and removing heated air or steam from hot processes using local exhaust ventilation.  

For more information on managing the risks of heat related illnesses in the workplace see the model Code of Practice: Managing the work environment and facilities and the Guide for managing the risks for working in heat

How do I know if a worker is acclimatised to heat?

Acclimatisation means that the body is starting to adapt to heat. An acclimatised worker may begin to sweat more efficiently and can more easily maintain a normal body temperature. However, this is not always a reliable indicator. If you plan to introduce an acclimatisation program to manage the risks associated with working in heat in your business, it should be done in consultation with a professional, such as an occupational hygienist. 

Workers who are not acclimatised or are returning to work after an absence of a week or more are at a higher risk of experiencing a heat-related illness.

What are some ways of minimising risks of working in heat?

As a PCBU, you have duties under the model WHS laws to manage risks in the workplace, so far as is reasonably practicable. The risk management process involves several steps, including:

  • Identifying hazards—find out what could go wrong and what could cause harm. 
  • Carry out a risk assessment to determine the likelihood and severity of the risk. If the risks and controls are already well known a risk assessment may not be required. 
  • Controlling risks—implement the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable in the circumstances and ensure they remain effective over time. 

When implementing controls, the first thing that should be considered is whether the hazard can be eliminated, for example through cancelling outdoor work when temperatures are high. 

Substitution, isolation and engineering controls should then be considered. For example:

  • substitute the hazard for something safer: swap physical work for work that can be done by a machine.
  • isolate the risk from workers: separate workers from hot machinery, and 
  • engineering controls: such as setting up shade tents outdoors and using air conditioners indoors. 

If a risk still remains, administrative control measures should be implemented.

  • Administrative control measures include processes such as training, instruction and supervision. For example, schedule work so that more physically demanding activities are completed in cooler parts of the day. 
  • Personal protective equipment should be used to control any remaining risks. For example, provide breathable and light clothing. 

The risk controls you have implemented should be monitored and reviewed to ensure they remain effective.

Further information on the risk management process is in the model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks, the model Code of Practice: Managing the work environment and facilities and the Guide for managing the risks for working in heat.

Further advice

SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about specific laws in your jurisdiction. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.

See the Bureau of Meteorology for information on weather in your area, including temperatures and extreme weather warnings. 

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