It can often be a daunting task for businesses looking to keep their working condition temperatures within range during the summer months, especially when you are looking to provide an accident free and healthy workplace environment.
The Effects of Heat Strain
Poor motor control function has been associated with work in hot environments both in dry and humid conditions.
Hancock, in Kielblock and Schutte (1993: 280), observed that heat stress degrades mental performance well in advance of any deterioration of physical performance. Conversely, it has been suggested that an escalation in thermal load would lead to a fall in productivity and an increase in accident frequency rate.
These observations are supported by Misaqi et al (1976: 8), who identified dexterity and coordination, ability to observe irregular, faint optical signs, ability to remain alert during lengthy and monotonous tasks, and the ability to make quick decisions as attributes adversely affected by heat strain. General safety may also be compromised by adverse effects such as irritation, anger and other emotions as these may lead to rash acts by workers in hazardous situations. (Leveritt 2004)
The Indoor Working Environment
- Where possible, indoor workplace temperatures should be kept between 18 to 26 degrees Celsius through:
- ventilation and mechanical cooling methods, such as air conditioning and/or air circulating fans;
- provision of mechanisms external to the workplace to assist in temperature control, such as planting shade trees, and the use of eaves and verandas;
- insulating the roofs and walls of the work place;
- insulating or shielding sources of radiant heat in the work place, eg. Insulation around ovens, furnaces or other sources of radiant heat; and/or insulated barriers between hotter and cooler parts of the workplace;
- exhaust ducts for venting hot air from the work place.
Coupled with these recommendations, there are specific guidelines as to the appropriate resting periods that worker should be allowed access to, depending upon the internal temperatures of the building at the time.
From 10 mins rest for every hour of work at 30°C the rest periods will gradually increase until at 36°C it is recommended that work will cease until the temperature falls back to a healthy working environment.
It is without doubt that such stringent recommendations are not always strictly adhered to across the country, as deadlines and economic stress are enormous factors in “keeping the cogs of industry turning”.
The downside is that at the time it may seem fruitful for the person conducting the business or undertaking to turn a blind eye, however heat stress may very well lead to time off work due to illness or a workplace accident relating directly to the working conditions to which the employees were subjected to.
A Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) has a Primary Duty of Care. In this case it extends to ensuring the health and safety of its employees so far is reasonable practical.
Start by sizing the area that needs to be ventilated and cooled.
Consider the conditions. Are there other factors such as emissions, gases, smoke or dust to be considered?
Consult an expert for air changes required to extract the heat or contaminated air whilst pushing the airflow of cooler air into the working environment.
If the outdoor temperatures are extreme in the summer months, consider using cooling methods other that of air conditioners that are expensive to run and maintain and dry out the air and the workers.
A cool worker is a happy worker. Consider what price you would pay for a more productive workplace.
There are many companies that use duty officers that may be prosecuted under the Work Health & Safety Act. Speak to the experts and get proper recommendations for your WHS strategy.