Implementing Heat Alert Programs (HAP) could be the answer in preparing miners against extreme heat waves this summer.
Although heat-stress prevention is a high priority at Australian mine sites, extreme heat waves are imposing additional stress on the systems in place to protect workers.
Heat stress, which can occur when the body is dehydrated and cannot maintain a healthy body temperature, can be a life-threatening condition. Many mine sites have taken preventative measures by ensuring rehydration drinks are readily accessible and workers wear specially-designed cooling gear such as vests, bandannas and scarves.
However, sometimes even the best prepared workplaces can be taken unawares.
In December, Australia was hit by a series of unexpected heatwaves. Temperatures soared past 40 degrees in some regions and many mine workers found themselves severely dehydrated.
It was an abrupt wakeup call for many mine site managers, who realised that more needed to be done to keep workers healthy and productive in even the most extreme conditions.
Implementing a Heat Alert Program (HAP) could be the answer to the problem.
Heat Alert Program
HAPs may differ from site to site, but the main idea behind them is identical, to take advantage of weather forecasts to manage heat stress. When the outdoor temperatures reach a level that could cause adverse health effects to workers, a heat alert is issued.
A HAP is usually implemented by a committee that is headed by the Health Safety and Environment (HSE) Manager and may include an industrial physician or nurse, a safety engineer, other industrial hygienists and a high ranking manager. They are in charge of training other site managers and supervisors on how to implement the HAP procedures.
Firstly, the committee needs to establish criteria for the declaration of a heat alert. For example this may occur when a heat index incorporating variables such as air temperature, humidity, and radiant heat reaches a prescribed limit.
Once a Heat Alert has been declared, there are a number of procedures that can be followed:
- Ensure the workplace is well-ventilated and unnecessary heat sources are turned off;
- Monitor the environmental heat of the workplace;
- Schedule physical activities for the coolest part of the day;
- Mine workers must be given additional breaks from physical activity and recover in air-conditioned or shaded rest places;
- Post pone tasks which are not urgent;
- Increase the number of mine workers to undertake hot and heavy work in order to reduce each individual's heat exposure;
- Check workers' oral temperature during the most severe heat-exposure period;
- Ensure shift workers are not overexposed to heat on their first day back, because they may have lost some of their acclimatisation on their days off;
- Seek medical attention for any workers showing signs of a heat disorder, no matter how minor. Warning signs and symptoms include cramping, rapid pulse, heavy sweating, hot red skin, dizziness, confusion, nausea, vomiting.
Hydration solutions for worksites
The most important step is to ensure all workers stay well hydrated by drinking fluids regularly. Mine sites should ensure employees have free and easy access to fluids and electrolyte replacement drinks.
One of the most popular hydration solutions in Australian workplaces today is the rehydration drink, Sqwincher, which industrial safety products specialist Pryme Australia is a supplier of.
Sqwincher is an electrolyte replacement drink scientifically formulated to safely replace mineral salts, replenish fluids and sugars at optimal absorption rates which are depleted as a result of dehydration or through physical exertion. It prevents or reduces the severity of heat stress disorders and provides a supplemental source of energy plus quenches thirst.
Sqwincher contains important electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, carbohydrates for extra energy and water for hydration.
Sqwincher's new Sugar Free Sqwincher 5 Litre Powder mixes directly into a 5L cooler making Sqwincher readily available for workers to stay hydrated.
A well-executed HAP not only increases the wellness of workers but can save lives as well.
This summer, don't let your workers allow the effects of dehydration go unchecked.
Pryme Australia is also offering workplaces, for a limited time, free dehydration check cards and a free heat-stress index poster. Contact them directly for elligibility criteria.