Working in extreme heat is a widespread hazard, particularly in Australia where many workers are exposed to high temperatures. Working in extreme cold can also be a hazard in University operations. Workers at risk at Flinders University include those working outdoors, in plant-rooms and ceiling spaces, cold rooms, walk-in freezers, workshops and even office buildings in hot weather. Particularly during the summer and winter months, staff working both outdoors and indoors are likely to experience heat/ cold stress unless preventative steps are taken.
Some measures to identify, assess and control extreme heat/ cold related issues include:
- Assessing worksites and reducing heat/ cold stress risk.
- Collecting temperature technical information for accurately measuring working temperature.
- Utilising safe work procedures for working in extreme heat/ cold conditions.
Working in extreme heat/ cold can cause body stress. Short term effects of heat/ cold stress include:
- Increase the possibility of accidents (due to reduced concentration);
- Increase the discomfort of wearing protective equipment (and consequently discourage workers using such);
- Increase harmful effects of other workplace hazards, such as chemical vapours, noise, etc;
- Aggravate pre-existing illness or health conditions;
- Cause heat/cold illness in workers.
Heat illness is the most obvious sign that people are working in excessive heat. It shows up as skin conditions (such as prickly heat), heat exhaustion (collapse or fainting), or as heat cramps. In severe cases, body temperature control systems break down altogether causing a rapid rise in temperature. This is called heat stroke and can be fatal.
Cold illness is the most obvious sign that people are working in excessive cold. It shows up as chilblains, immersion foot and frostbite. In severe cases, body temperature control systems can break down altogether causing a rapid decrease in temperature. This is called hypothermia and can be fatal.
Workplace factors affecting heat/cold stress
Environmental factors include:
- ambient air temperature (may include high altitudes);
- wet weather
- air movement and wind speed;
- radiant heat from the sun and other sources such as ovens;
- cold from walk-in freezers and cold rooms;
- workload (nature of work, duration and location)
- lack of shade or shelter
- processes or equipment producing heat.
Personal factors include:
- type of clothing worn;
- requirement for protective clothing/equipment to be used (remember that respirators reduce breathing efficiency and are actually "tiring" to use);
- manual labour or physical effort required for the job;
- movement of worker in and around workplace (moving from hot to cold environments constantly);
- state of health of the individual (age can also be a factor);
- experience and training of the worker.
For further information on control measures and signs and symptoms of heat or cold related illness or health effects, please refer to the Working in Extreme Heat or Cold Procedures.