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Brisbane employers should protect their workers from heat illnesses and heat stress

Summer heat can be a death sentence for Australians that work outdoors, especially for workers in the mining, agriculture, construction and other manual occupations that are exposed to high temperatures. A worker can be victim to heat stress and other heat related illness as they work outside in the sun. Prolonged exposure to these temperatures can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, loss of coordination, seizures or even death.

The mining industry is especially serious for the risk of heat stress or worse. Exploratory mining, tyre fitters, pump operators (pumpies) and coal miners are only a few of the roles that face challenging conditions, monotonous work and potential safety risks in their profession.

An employer has a duty of care to its workers to make sure reasonable steps are taken to avoid foreseeable risks of injury. When it comes to heat-related health conditions, there are many questions that may arise from this:

What are the foreseeable risks of injury?

A reasonable employer whose job duties require its employees to work long hours outside during hot and humid weather should foresee that there would be a risk of injury to that worker.

According to the Queensland Department of Health, when the body is unable to maintain a healthy temperature, it may be subjected to 4 main stages of heat illness, which are heat rash, heat cramps, heat stress and heat stroke. Each stage has different symptomologies that get progressively worse as the body continues to be subject to uncontrollable temperatures.

A heat rash is a skin irritation from excessive sweating during hot and humid weather. It looks like a cluster of red pimples or small blisters, most commonly found on the neck and upper chest. It can also be found within creases in the elbow, under the breast or in the groin.

Heat cramps occur when the body is depleted of its salt and fluids from sweating. This can lead to muscle cramps in the arms, legs and abdomen. A heat cramp may be an early symptom of heat exhaustion, which is a more severe condition.

Heat exhaustion may develop over several days of significantly hot weather and is the body’s response to gradual depletion of fluids and salt from sweating. The warning signs of heat exhaustion are heavy sweating, muscle cramps, paleness, fatigue and weakness, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting and fainting.

Heat stroke is the most severe and can be potentially deadly. When the body temperature rises to 41C or higher and the body is unable to cool itself down through sweating, heat stroke may cocur within 10-15 minutes. The warning signs include body temperatures over 39C, dry and red hot skin (though some sweating may still be evident), throbbing headache, rapid pulse and nausea.

What reasonable steps can an employer undertake to protect its employees?

The CFMEU National Construction Union recommends a number of strategies that workplaces should take into consideration:

  • Workers should be alerted to possible extreme heat conditions by their supervisors or another worksite authority.
  • Access to cool, clean drinking water should be provided, while avoiding caffeinated and sugary beverages that promote dehydration while out in the heat.
  • Supress dust and cool down workers with mist busters/water trucks.
  • Providing adequate ventilation where possible.
  • Worker rotating shifts.
  • Providing artificial shade such as: sheds, caravans, tents, umbrellas, shade cloth or sunshade.
  • Reducing unnecessary PPE where permissible and supplying UV protection like sunblock and wide brimmed hats as part of PPE
  • Adherence to proper mandated ‘smoko’ and lunch breaks. Workers should not be discouraged from taking necessary rest breaks.
  • Reorganize outdoor work when possible so employees can carry out alternative tasks during extreme heat, or work in the shade.

Why does this apply to me?

Whether you are undertaking a construction project outdoors, working a government park cleaning job, or are a fly in fly out worker in the mines, manual labour becomes increasingly more dangerous when it subjects an employee to extreme weather conditions such as excessive heat.

Workers may be reluctant to speak with a lawyer after they are injured. They may be unsure where the responsibility lies for a work injury. Sometimes, they may even feel that they are responsible. While there is always a chance that a worker may be responsible for an accident, it is important to note that this mindset is the exact perspective that any insurance company or potentially negligent employer would always want you to believe regardless of the situation.

Employees have a right to work in a safe environment that has safety measures to deal with potential risks. You also have a right to seek legal advice and representation if you feel that your accident puts your health and future may be in jeopardy.

Brisbane Lawyers in Personal Injury

East Coast Injury Lawyers is available to answer all of your personal injury questions with a free consultation. There is no risk or obligation in getting this free preliminary advice so you can be informed of your legal rights. This may be an invaluable resource if you have been injured in a work accident and are unsure about your rights to compensation.

Contact our team today. Our firm is led by Accredited Specialists in Personal Injury who are highly experienced and skilled in dealing with your claim.

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