Employers warned over rising temperatures

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Employers across New Zealand are being warned to put additional measures in place as the record-breaking summer continues to threaten employee wellbeing and workplace safety.

“There is a link between heat and fatigue, which leads to potential for more fatigue-related accidents,” said WorkSafe’s deputy GM of investigations and specialist services, Simon Humphries.

“Employers have a legal obligation under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) to identify risk in the workplace and mitigate that risk appropriately,” he continued.

While the HSWA does not specify extreme temperatures at which staff should stop work for health and safety reasons, Humphries says employers have a responsibility to remain alert.

“Recognising the signs of thermal discomfort or stress and raising concerns is important for both businesses and workers to manage health risks that come from working in an environment that is too hot or too cold,” he said.

“Workers and businesses need to be aware that there is a link between heat and fatigue, which leads to potential for more fatigue-related accidents,” he added.

Humphries also reminded employers that a safe working temperature is not determined by air temperature alone – other factors include:
  • Humidity: the moisture content of the air
  • Radiant heat: heat emitted from any hot object or surface
  • Air movement: which may cool the air, or in cold environments may cause a wind chill effect
  • Physical activity: greater activity increases the generation of heat in the body
  • Clothing: can aid or prevent heat transfer
However, employers aren’t powerless to improve the situation. According to WorkSafe, minimising the risk of harm can include isolation and engineering controls such as:
  • Ventilation and air conditioning
  • Shielding
  • Modifying the process so less heat is needed to carry out task
  • Reducing the heat created in carrying out a process to the lowest possible level
Employers can also implement administrative controls such as:
  • Minimising exposure to heat where unnecessary and provide regular and sufficient hydration
  • Pre-plan jobs to minimise exposure through quick and efficient work, and do non-essential work at times when heat is lowest
  • Rotate jobs and reconsider working hours when practicable
  • Provide first aid training to recognise and treat any heat-related disorders
  • Provide training to understand the effect of fitness, diet, health and life choices (alcohol) on heat stress and risk
  • Reduce the amount of physical work a person has to do and provide adequate rest periods
  • Provide suitable and/or protective clothing
  • Allow workers to acclimatise
  • Provide appropriate medical assessments.

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