With summer here, we are faced with consecutive 30 degree plus days and high humidity. While these searing temperatures are neither here nor there for those of us who sit in an air-conditioned office all day long, spare a thought for those who work outdoors.

Many construction workers, tradespersons, farmers, and emergency services officers, just to name a few, work through the searing temperatures of the Queensland summer to get the job done. But how hot is too hot to be working outdoors? In 2013 a coal seam gas worker died after working in extremely hot conditions on a construction site near Roma.


So should workers stop work at a certain temperature?

In this article we aim to answer this very question, as well as take a look at the rights of workers to stop work due to the heat to avoid any heat-related illnesses. Research conducted by the University of Adelaide has made a link between hotter temperatures and injury claims. Their study focused around those who work outdoors and workers compensation claims and found that once the mercury reached 37.7 degrees there was a considerable increase in injuries recorded.

In Queensland there is no specific temperature at which workers must stop work. Instead, the CFMEU recommends taking regular 30 minute breaks when temperatures reach 35C or above. The CFMEU in other states around Australia have stated that their workers have the following rights when it comes to working in hot conditions:

South Australia:
  • If the temperature is less than 35 degrees work continues normally but take actions to minimise heat stress as temperature rises in exposed areas;
  • If the temperature is over 35 degrees work in exposed areas ceases;
  • If the temperature is over 37 degrees all work ceases unless working in an air conditioned area.
New South Wales:
  • If the temperature in your work area reaches 35 degrees – Work stops;
  • If the humidity levels reach 75% or above – Work stops.
Victoria:
  • Workers will stop work and leave the site when the temperature reaches 35 degrees
Western Australia:
  • If the temperature reaches 37.5 degrees all employees shall be allowed to cease work and go home


So what are some examples of heat-related illnesses?

Severe heat can lead to serious injuries including:
  • Heat rash;
  • Heat cramps;
  • Heat exhaustion;
  • Heat stroke;
Warning signs of heat stress can include:
  • Heavy sweating
  • Headaches
  • Painful muscle spasms or cramps
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech or blurred vision
Be careful if you are experiencing any or a combination of these symptoms.


How to prevent heat-related injuries

To help prevent incidents related to heat Worksafe Queensland recommends the following:
  • Have regular cooling off or rest periods;
  • Drink plenty of water;
  • Wear appropriate clothing including:
    • Loose fitting clothing – this promotes good air circulation;
    • Specialised liquid or air cooled clothing when working in extreme conditions.
Employers have a duty to keep their employees safe from injury (including heat-related illnesses or injuries) and have a duty to address problems with extreme temperatures in the workplace. They therefore should ensure:
  • They have a plan in place for treating heat affected workers;
  • Workers are screened for heat tolerance;
  • Workers follow their doctor’s advice before working in hot conditions.
Employers can also reduce a workers’ exposure to heat by:
  • Adjusting work hours;
  • Allowing workers to taking more breaks;
  • Providing employees with good hydration;
  • Offering more flexible working arrangements;
  • Using trees, buildings or a temporary shelter (e.g. tarp or umbrella) to provide shade;
  • Providing a cool and shady place for rest and meal breaks.
In response to the death of the coal seam gas worker in 2013 the Coroner investigating his death has made recommendations into workplace policies in relation to extremely hot days. The Coroner has suggested that Queensland follow other states with a stop-work temperature that will protect employees in extreme heat. One can only hope that these recommendations are adopted into all workplace policies, or even documented into legislation, to prevent many heat-related illnesses or injuries.

If you have suffered a heat-related injury you should contact WorkCover Queensland immediately and lodge an application for compensation. We can assist you further in determining your prospects for success in a negligence claim against your employer for failing to prevent your heat-related injury.

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