Working in extreme temperatures

Working in extreme temperatures

Working outdoors or in extreme temperatures brings with it a number of unique risks to a worker.

In light of extreme weather systems experienced in Victoria during the summer months, it is important for workers to understand the effects of extreme temperatures on their health and safety.

Working outdoors

For those working outdoors, there are a number of risks associated with heat and sun exposure.

The heat, either due to the weather or a warm indoor work environment, can cause various types of'heat illnesses'. One such illness is heat stroke, and can be life threatening if not treated immediately. Symptoms may include the development of a heat rash, feelings of exhaustion and even fainting. Fainting can pose a great danger to those working at heights, with power tools, or operating machinery. The heat may also cause pre-existing illnesses and conditions to worsen.

Construction workers, those in the mining and quarrying industries, and other employment which takes part primarily outdoors, are at risk of excessive UV exposure. Such exposure can in turn lead to skin cancer. In recognition of the risk, WorkSafe ran a campaign from 2003 to 2006 promoting sun protection for construction workers. The CFMEU Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBA) state that workers will leave a work site when the temperature reaches 35 degrees. The CFMEU EBA also requires employers to provide sunscreen, water, brims for hard hats, sunglasses, and an air conditioned site shed. For those workers not covered by a contract with provisions in relation to sun protection, the Australian Taxation Office allows tax deductions for sunscreen hats and sunglasses for outdoor workers.

Employers are required to identify heat illness hazards. It is important to understand that the temperature alone is not indicative of the risk of a heat illness occurring. There are various other factors to be taken into consideration, including workload, air movement and wind speed, radiant heat sources, and personal protective equipment and clothing.

Working in cold environments

Workers at cold storage companies are required to perform their duties in temperatures that can also expose them to significant health risks. For instance, the level of physical activity required can result in sweating, which decreases the body temperature and can contribute to the onset of cold stress or hypothermia. Pre-existing medical conditions can be exacerbated by the cold, and proper training is required for employees who are not experienced or acclimatised to cold work environments. The use of personal protective equipment is paramount in cold storage work, and inadequate clothing or equipment can also lead to cold stress of hypothermia.

Aside from cold related illnesses, the likelihood of muscle strain is increased when working in a cold environment. There may be other factors in cold storage facilities which create unique risks, such as the possibility of ice or water on floor surfaces, causing falls.

What should I do if I have been injured working in extreme heat or cold?

If you have suffered an injury related to your employment in cooled or heated areas, or as a result of sun exposure during work, you may be entitled to compensation.

You can contact a member of our legal team directly on (03) 9321 9988.

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