In most Australian regions, heat is more dangerous than cold. Between 2006 and 2017, heat was responsible for approximately 2% of all deaths in Australia. This number rises to over 4% in the central and northern parts of the country.
Actually, Australian death records underreport the relationship between heat and mortality at least 50-fold. Chronic heat stress also not report.
While the risk is greater in certain regions, it doesn’t matter where you live. Heat is more dangerous than others, which puts workers at greater risk of injury.
Who Is Most At Heat Risk?
One study compared the workers’ compensation claims in Adelaide between 2003 and 2013. The study found that workers are at greater risk in extreme heat.
- Animal and horticultural workers
- food service workers
- metal workers
- Warehouse workers.
Hot weather poses a greater threat than cold weather, according to the authors. This is especially concerning as hot days are project to increase.
Another study that involved many of the same researchers examined the effects of heatwaves in relation to work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths in Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane. The study found that vulnerable groups were:
- Workers under 34 years of age
- Apprentice/trainee workers
- labour hire workers
- Those who are employed in heavy and medium strength occupations and
- Workers from both the indoor and outdoor industrial sectors.
- An analysis of workplace injuries in Melbourne was done between 2002 and 2012.
On hot days, young workers, male workers, and those who do heavy physical work are more at risk than other workers. A wider range of worker subgroups is also at greater risk after a warm night. This information is crucial in order to inform injury prevention strategies, especially considering climate change projections.
Adelaide Heat Study
An Adelaide study that used data from 2001 to 2010 found that young workers under 24 years old were more at risk for work-related injuries in hot environments. Temperature and daily injury claims were strong in the case of labourers, tradespeople, intermediate production, and transport workers. These workers do jobs like operating machinery and vehicles to transport passengers.
The most at-risk industries were agriculture, fishing, construction, and forestry. The links between occupational injuries and heat exposure were examined in a systematic review and meta-analysis involving 24 studies.
Hot temperatures pose a high risk for young workers, male workers, and those in construction, forestry, fishing, and agriculture. Additional occupational injuries were also possible for young workers, male workers and workers in the electricity, gas, water and manufacturing industries.
Many people may be surprised to learn that trainees and apprentices suffered more heat-related injuries at work. This is because heat tolerance decreases with age. Younger workers are at greater risk due to their exposure to labour intensive work, lack of experience in managing heat stress and the tendency to not acknowledge that they are affect by heat.
Risk Factors Include
International research is showing that extreme heat can lead to severe health problems.
Age, low socioeconomic status and homelessness are all factors that can increase heat vulnerability. It is also important to consider the region; there are variations between climate zones, and more heat-related morbidity in rural settings.
Heat-related illnesses and deaths can be exacerbate by health conditions. These conditions may include
- High blood pressure
- Chronic kidney disease
- Heart conditions
- Conditions that can affect the respiratory system.
Heat exposure can cause serious health problems. This includes irreversible and chronic kidney damage. Numerous studies have shown that higher temperatures are link to suicide rates, more mental illnesses, and worse mental health.
We Must Better Understand The Problem
The majority of these studies focused on worker’s claims for compensation. This data only includes injuries for which claims have been made. The problem is more widespread than that.
While the Australian studies were primarily focus on milder climates, injuries and illnesses are higher in hotter and more humid areas. The dangers could be even greater in remote and regional areas, especially when workers are temporary.
Further research is need to determine if workers health and their exposure to higher temperatures over longer periods of time (in hours or in days) are related.
Studies in other countries or national studies should examine whether injury rates differ depending on occupation, climate zone, and location. It is vital to collect data on all types of workplace injuries, not just those that resulted in a claim for compensation, to understand the extent of the problem.
As heatwaves and climate change become more severe and frequent, it is vital that we understand who is most at risk and what we can do to reduce their risk.