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Recent climate data shows that extreme heat events are occurring in Australia more often and for longer periods. On top of that, the Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a high chance of unusually warm temperatures for most of Australia until at least February 2024.

According to government health services, mine workers are starting to experience the effects of hot weather conditions as summer approaches and the country enters an El Niño weather event. El Niño events increase the risk of extreme temperature shifts, like heatwaves and hotter days.

Working in heat is a hazard that can result in severe health problems for many workers – whether they work indoors or outdoors.

The human body needs to maintain a body temperature of approximately 37 degrees Celsius. If the body has to work too hard to keep cool, it starts to overheat and a worker begins to suffer from heat-related illness.

“Heat-related illness” is a term that describes a range of progressive heat-related conditions including dehydration, heatstroke, fainting, heat rash, heat cramps and heat exhaustion.

Warning signs of heat-related illness are feeling hot, weak and fatigued, clammy skin, headache, loss of concentration, poor judgement, irritability, confusion, clumsiness, slower reaction times, slurred speech, intense thirst, nausea and vomiting, rapid breathing and shortness of breath, fast, weak pulse rate, tingling, numbness of fingers and/or toes, visual disturbance, dizziness, fainting, and in extreme cases seizures and unconsciousness.

If you experience any of these symptoms, immediately move to a cool place that has circulating air, loosen all tight clothing and remove unnecessary garments including PPE. Drink frequent, small amounts of cool (not cold) water and if symptoms don’t improve after one hour seek immediate medical attention.

Usually, a person doesn’t even realise they may be suffering from a heat related illness. Or they might blame symptoms on other conditions. It’s important to be aware of the signs and act quickly to avoid serious – or even fatal – effects of fully developed heatstroke.

Commence work well hydrated
Drink at least a 200ml of water every 15-20 minutes
Eat regular meals and snacks to help replace salt and electrolytes lost through sweating
Reduce radiant heat sources using insulation, spot cooling or shielding
Ensure easy access to cool fresh water
Use mechanical aids to minimise physical exertion
Implement regular rest breaks in cool areas
Erect portable shades as refuge areas
Increase air movement with the use of fans
Reschedule high physical work activities to cooler times
Wear clothing with ventilation openings and permeable fabric
Perform work in safer locations
Where possible, never work alone

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