WA’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety recently issued a safety reminder to workers about the dangers of heat stress and working in high heat environments on mine sites and remote areas.
The extremes of Western Australia’s climate means that heat stress is a significant risk that needs to be managed across the State’s mining and exploration operations, said the department’s director of 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.
“Heat stroke 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 heat-related illness.”
Some of the key risk factors for workers are:
- High temperatures and/or humidity
- Radiant heat from hot surfaces
- Hot work processes (e.g. welding, work near furnaces/kilns/boilers etc.)
- 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).
Some of the measures that can be taken in order to minimise the possibility or likelihood of heat stress could include:
- Not exposing workers to the extremes of heat so far as is practicable
- Isolating sources of heat, so far as is practicable, through shielding, containment and remote handling techniques
- Adopting safe work practices and appropriate administrative procedures such as job rotation and frequent breaks.
Managers and supervisors
- Ensuring workers are trained to recognise early symptoms of heat stress
- Providing detailed safe work practices that identify the hazards and controls for working in hot and humid conditions and ensure controls are implemented
- Adjusting work output expectations acknowledging the difference in acclimatisation between workers.
“Added to this danger is the fact that many mining operations are in remote areas in Western Australia where medical assistance is not 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(link is external) on its website.