Why do worker injuries spike when it’s hot?
It is well established that occupational heat exposure has a profound effect on the ability to perform physical work.
Since body heat is produced in proportion to the intensity of physical work, higher work intensity results in greater body heat production. In cool conditions, such body heat is readily dissipated to the environment, however, heat (and humidity) limit body heat loss and result in elevated core (deep tissue) body temperature and overall, heat stress. The impact of such heat stress has been documented through worker physiological responses (Brearley et al. 2015), symptoms that include fatigue, irritability and headaches (Rogerson et al. 2020), impacts that include sleep impairment, loss of appetite and strained family relationships (Brearley et al., submitted), productivity losses (Parsons et al., 2021), and heat-related illness (Xiang et al. 2014). Additionally, research has also identified that occupational injuries generally peak during the hottest months (Spector et al. 2016), and that sustained exposure to abnormally hot work conditions, such as during heatwaves, exacerbate the risk to workers (Fatima et al. 2021). For example, moderate and high severity heatwaves in Brisbane result in a 45% increase in work-related injuries and illnesses irrespective of whether work is carried out indoors or outdoors (Varghese et al. 2019).
This session will explore the mechanisms through which heat impacts worker susceptibility to injury, providing attendees with a fresh approach to assessing the impact of heat upon the workforce.