The heat has claimed its first victim in Melbourne after a school gardener died on Wednesday. The man, a worker at Ivanhoe Girl’s Grammar School collapsed and died in the heat after warnings for people to careful as the temperatures soared.
The gardener, Martin Troy was 76 years old and was employed at the school for 32 years. According to the school’s spokesperson, Mr Troy had been told to stay at home and avoid working outdoors in the heat. He was apparently about to leave on Wednesday when he collapsed. The man was apparently not working outdoors in the hours immediately before his death but in an air conditioned environment.
Mr Troy collapsed from the heat as he was walking between buildings at the school and staff tried to resuscitate him before the emergency personnel arrived.
This tragedy is a reminder of how harsh and stifling the temperatures can be over Sumer. We need to take the necessary precautions particularly those who work predominantly outdoors such as construction workers.
In addition to the risk of collapsing in the heat, fatigue and heat stress can affect a worker’s long term health. Those suffering from heat stress can experience a drop in performance and productivity, and an increase in the chance of a workplace injury through the reduced ability to concentrate, recognise risks and communicate effectively. On a construction site this can be even more dangerous.
The greatest cause for concern is heat illness which is the consequence for working in the hot sun without taking breaks or drinking water. This is because when it is hot the body normally cools itself by sweating but when the humidity is particularly high this sweating isn’t enough.
The worker’s body temperature can rise to dangerous levels which is why the proper precautions must be taken by workers working outdoors.
Employers need to ensure that the necessary steps are taken to protect workers from the heat. One of control measures is re-scheduling work to cooler times of the day to avoid heat or arrange for workers to work in shaded, cooler areas if possible. It is also a good idea to alternate workers rosters so that the same workers aren’t constantly exposed to the sun.
Most importantly all workers should have access to clean, plain, cool drinking water and be encouraged to drink water regular and stay hydrated. If breaks are needed, workers should be allowed to take a rest in the shade and drink water.
Personal protective equipment is also an important tool to fight heat stress and other heat related consequences. Employers should also provide workers with personal protective equipment such as clothing with UPF 50+ rating, loose shirts with long sleeves, collars and long pants, broad spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30+) and sunglasses which meet Australian Standards for UV protection
As the high temperatures continue, employers and workers need to be vigilant and take the necessary steps to avoid heat stress and heat stroke so no more fatalities occur.