Keep cool this summer

An early heatwave across parts of Queensland has brought concerns that workers across the state need to prepare for a long hot summer. Media reports on the recent death of a Belgian backpacker working on a watermelon farm in North Queensland suggest the incident could be linked to heat stress, although Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’s (WHSQ) investigation is ongoing.

In the last five years, there have been over 200 reported incidents of heat stress, 22 of which resulted in serious injury or death. The risk from heat stress comes from a combination of factors, not just temperature. These may include working in the sun, humidity, reflected heat, strenuous work and low air movement. Heat from machinery, inappropriate clothing and general worker health, as well as alcohol and caffeine consumption, can also have adverse impacts.

WHSQ has an online tool to assist in identifying and assessing the risk of heat stress, with control measures needing to be implemented when the risk of a heat related illness is assessed as high. Use the Heat Stress (Basic) Calculator to help identify and assess the risk factors. The risk rating result can be used to determine strategies to control the risk of heat-related illness.

Be aware of heat-related illness and how to prevent it

All workers need to be made aware of heat-related illness and understand tactics to prevent it such as:

  • working at a comfortable pace and take regular rest breaks
  • being aware of your how your body feels and responds to working in hot conditions. If you feel unwell, remember to stop work and move into cooler conditions immediately
  • drinking frequently—water is the best choice to rehydrate
  • planning ahead and accounting for hot conditions.

What to do in an emergency

Make sure that you have emergency plans that outline what to do when a worker may be suffering from a heat-related illness. Remove workers who may feel weak or faint from the heat, whether outdoors in the sun or inside in hot conditions. Generally, with rest, being in a cool environment and drinking water, recovery is rapid, however, the worker should not return immediately to the hot situation. In more serious cases, you may need to assist the affected person by:

  • physically removing the worker from the heat and lying them down in the shade
  • cooling by sponging the skin with water and fanning
  • encouraging to drink cooled but not cold water
  • raising the legs if the victim is dizzy.

If recovery is not evident, medical aid should be sought quickly. During this time, cooling must be maintained as a continued high body temperature may result in heatstroke, which can be fatal.

Further information

More information is available at: https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/injury-prevention-safety/hazardous-exposures/heat-stress/managing-exposure and https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/injury-prevention-safety/hazardous-exposures/heat-stress.

Article prepared with content from worksafe.qld.gov.au.