The Impact of Heat Stress on Safety Incidents.

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Are you under estimating the impact of heat stress on your safety incidents? We tend to mainly focus on heat illness when we think about heat stress but there is another side to this hazard. It has been known for some time that the early stages of heat exposure often show up as fatigue, tiredness and lethargy. Some studies have identified adverse changes in short term memory, increased errors and increased risk of injury. A recent paper (Xiang et al) indicates that the industrial sector is at a higher risk of incidents relating to increased temperature. The US army also noticed that there was an increased incidence of injury during basic combat training in the summer months. To the point where the relative risk of suffering an injury was twice as high in summer than in the autumn. Some unpublished studies I carried out in northern Australia showed a significant increase in first aid and medical treatment injuries at a refinery in the hotter months. Dehydration level is an important aspect of this issue. A 2 to 3% loss in body fluid is generally regarded as the level at which there is an increased perceived effort, increased risk of heat illness and reduced physical and mental performance (Hunt et al, 2009).

Given the location of many of our resource industries maybe we should be looking closer at the possible impact of heat related factors in incidents. How many businesses ask questions during a safety incident investigation relating to whether the individuals involved were distressed and possibly dehydrated as a result of the hot environment? Could we be missing out on a key causal factor? It could be a case of not seeing the wood for the trees.

Want to know more?

Hunt, AP, Stewart, I B, & Parker, TW (2009). Dehydration is a health and safety concern for surface mine workers. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Environmental Ergonomics, Boston USA, August 2009.

Knapik, JJ, Canham-Chervak, M, Hauret, K, Laurin, MJ, Hoedebecke, E, Craig, S & Montain, SJ (2002).  Seasonal Variations in Injury Rates During US Army Basic Combat Training.  Ann Occup Hyg, 46(1); pp 15-23

Xiang J, Bi P, Pisaniello D, et al. The association between high temperature and work-related injuries in Adelaide, South Australia, 2001–2010. Occup Environ Med 2014;71:246–52.

Cian, C, Koulmann, N, Barraud, PA, Raphel, C Jimenez, C & Melin, B (2000).    Influence of Variations in Body Hydration on Cognitive Function: Effect of Hyperhydration, Heat Stress, and Exercise-Induced Dehydration.  Journal of Psychophysiology 14; pp 29–36.

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