Western Australia’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) recently issued a reminder to guard against the effects of extreme temperatures in work environments following a forecast of above-average temperatures this summer.
The extremes of Western Australia’s climate means heat stress is a significant risk that needs to be managed across mining and exploration operations, said DMIRS director mines safety Andrew Chaplyn.
“Supervisors and workers need to understand the risks and symptoms of heat stress. Workers should report any signs of heat stress to a supervisor,” he said.
“Heatstroke can cause permanent damage to the brain and other vital organs, and can even result in death.
“It is critical that urgent medical treatment is sought for anyone suspected of suffering a heat-related illness.”
Heat stress can be avoided by taking simple steps such as drinking cool clean water at frequent intervals, having rest pauses in a cool place and helping sweat evaporate by increasing air circulation.
Heatstroke is a far more serious condition that must be treated immediately.
The signs of heatstroke are cessation in sweating, high body temperature and hot and dry skin, while confusion and loss of consciousness may occur.
If heat stroke is suspected, the person should be treated by a doctor as soon as possible.
Until medical treatment is available, the person should be cooled down as quickly as possible by methods such as soaking clothing in cold water and increasing air movement by fanning.
Some of the key risk factors for workers are:
- High temperatures and/or humidity.
- Radiant heat from hot surfaces.
- Hot work processes (for example, welding, work near furnaces, kilns and boilers).
- Lack of hydration.
- High work rate and strenuous physical exertion.
- Working without recovery breaks.
- Lack of acclimatisation.
- Work where heavy personal protective equipment (PPE) is required.
- Personal risk factors (e.g. age, physical fitness, medical conditions, drug/alcohol use).
“Adding to the danger posed by heat stress is the fact many mining operations are in remote areas in Western Australia where medical assistance may not be easily available,” Chaplyn said.
“This is especially the case for exploration work and travel between mine sites.”
The department has guidance for remote area work, a guideline on the management and prevention of heat stress and links to further information on its website.
Article originally published by the Australian Institute of Health and Safety.