35% of workers experience occupational heat strain when working in the heat, increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses (HRI). Alongside thermal risk assessment, environmental controls and physiological monitoring, one of the most important ways to reduce risk is to empower workers to combat heat strain through appropriate training.
Many workers are unaware of the risks of working in the heat
A survey of Australian health and safety specialists found that 61% of specialists believed there was a need to increase heat-related training in workplaces. This belief is supported by several studies investigating the knowledge of HRI and HRI prevention strategies amongst workers in a variety of settings. One recent study of migrant farmworkers in the USA found that more than half could not correctly answer questions about HRI first aid, reducing the ability to assist employees and co-workers and avoid severe illness. Another study of highly experienced and educated oil spill clean-up responders found a lack of knowledge in several key areas, including how to differentiate between different kinds of heat illness and the importance of acclimatization.
You may be legally required to provide heat exposure training
Both the USA and Australia have regulations stating that employers must ensure that employees are safe at work, including the training of workers to understand, prevent and address workplace hazards such as working in the heat. Two US states, California and Washington, both explicitly require employers to provide training on heat exposure and heat related illnesses.
What are the recommendations?
The US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Recommended Standard for Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments states that:
“Health and safety training is important for employers to provide to workers and their supervisors before they begin working in a hot environment.
This training should include information about:
- Recognizing symptoms of heat-related illness
- Proper hydration (e.g., drinking 1 cup of water or other fluids every 15–20 minutes)
- Care and use of heat-protective clothing and equipment
- Effects of various factors (e.g., drugs, alcohol, obesity, etc.) on heat tolerance
- The importance of acclimatization, reporting symptoms, and giving or receiving appropriate first aid.
Supervisors also should be provided with appropriate training about how to monitor weather reports and weather advisories.”
Safe Work Australia provides a similar list in their guide for managing the risks of working in the heat, stating that employers should:
“ensure that workers and supervisors are trained to:
- Identify and report hazards associated with heat and heat-related illness
- understand how to prevent heat-related illness
- recognise symptoms and signs of heat-related illness in themselves and others
- call for assistance if necessary
- identify and use appropriate first aid procedures
- look out for each other’s wellbeing
- modify work intensity and take more regular breaks when working in heat
- drink sufficient water to stay hydrated
- recognise the dangers of diuretic drinks
- be aware of individual risk factors
- understand acclimatisation
- recognise the potential dangers associated with the use of alcohol and/or drugs when working in heat
- use appropriate PPE correctly”
Where can I find out more?
For more information about heat illness and recommendations for workplace training check out the following resources:
- Safe work Australia: “Working in the heat”
- Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists: “A guide to managing heat stress”
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: “Criteria for a recommended standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments”
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration: “Occupational Exposure to Heat”