Construction workers who work outdoors in hot conditions are at risk of heat stress. Queensland's summer months (December, January, and February) pose the greatest risk, so it’s particularly important to manage exposure to hot conditions during that time.

Symptoms of heat stroke

Heat stress can cause a number of health issues including fainting and strokes. There are some important signs of heat stress that both you and your workers should be aware of:

  • Headaches
  • Fainting
  • Cramps
  • Tiredness, weakness or exhaustion
  • Significant sweating
  • Red/hot skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle spasms and/or cramps.

Causes and compounding factors contributing to heat stress

There are some key factors which make construction workers more susceptible to the effects of heat stress. Some of these factors include:

  • Workers who become dehydrated
  • Working in the sun, particularly during the hotter hours of the day
  • Working in areas with poor ventilation, such as confined spaces or ceiling spaces.

Although most construction workers are exposed to working in heat, various factors make individual workers more susceptible to heat stress, including:

  • Poor diet, alcohol and caffeine consumption, and factors like vomiting and diarrhoea that lead to dehydration
  • Medical conditions, such as heart problems, diabetes, and hypertension
  • Medication that affects the regulation of body temperature
  • Age, fitness, and weight.

Planning and risk assessment

Not all weather conditions can be planned for at the commencement of a project. Management of hot conditions often needs to be done on a day-by-day basis.

Depending on the length of the project, you'll have some awareness of whether work will be performed during the summer months. This will enable you to plan to reschedule high-risk work, engage additional staff and allow for more rest breaks.

You should regularly track weather conditions and temperatures so you can be prepared.

Control measures

Meet with your staff and discuss ways to alleviate or mitigate the impact of hot conditions. If workers are experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion, such as dizziness, nausea or fainting, it’s important that they to stop, rest and drink more fluids. You should also consider how the work could be rescheduled or managed more effectively.

Due to the nature of construction work, these risk factors can be difficult to manage at times. But there are easy and practical measures that you can put in place to minimise the risk of heat stress, in particular the risk of dehydration.

Some control measures employers can implement include:

  • Incorporate managing heat stress into the planning phase of projects to assist with scheduling of work, rest breaks and controls such as cool down areas.
  • Educating workers on managing the signs and symptoms of heat stress and know how to respond through toolbox talks/inductions.
  • Rotating jobs in and out of the sun during peak exposure times (10.00 am – 2.00 pm)
  • Avoiding work in ceiling spaces during the middle of the day
  • Ensuring your workers have access to 24 degree celcius drinking water
  • Encouraging workers to drink 150–200mm of cool fluids every 15–20 minutes, rather than consuming a one-litre drink sporadically
  • Resting dehydrated workers until they are fully rehydrated in shaded or covered areas or in an airconditioned room
  • Ensuring water coolers and air-conditioners in amenities sheds are working properly
  • Ensuring workers have adequate rest periods to cool off
  • Providing designated cool down areas for rest breaks such as shaded areas with tarps or tree.

Measures workers can take include:

  • Drinking water instead of tea, coffee or milk
  • Eating regularly with a balanced diet
  • Wearing cooling clothing, such as cooling vests, neckties and backpack-style, hands-free water dispensers
  • Wearing a hat or hard hat brim with neck flap.

Information about what to do if you identify someone with symptoms of heat-related illness can be found on the Queensland Health website.

Need more information?

If you haven’t found the answer to your questions on our website, give us a call or email us.

Major Sponsors