Determinants of heat-related injuries in Australian workplaces: Perceptions of health and safety professionals

Blesson M. Varghese, Alana L. Hansen, Susan Williams, Peng Bi, Scott Hanson-Easey, Adrian G. Barnett, Jane S. Heyworth, Malcolm R. Sim, Shelley Rowett, Monika Nitschke, Ross Di Corleto, Dino L. Pisaniello

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Abstract

Introduction: Hot workplace environments can lead to adverse health effects and contribute to a range of injuries. However, there is limited contextual understanding of heat-related injury occurrence. Gaining the perspectives of occupational health and safety professionals (HSPs) may elucidate the issue and inform targeted interventions. Methods: A cross-sectional national online survey was conducted in Australia to characterise HSP perceptions of heat-related injuries; current preventive measures; training, policies and guidelines; and perspectives on barriers for prevention. Results were analysed descriptively and a log-Poisson regression model was used to identify risk factors associated with HSP reported injury occurrence, assessed through prevalence ratio (PR). Results: Of the 307 HSP survey participants, 74% acknowledged the potential for increased risk of occupational injuries in hot weather. A variety of injury types and mechanisms were reported, including manual handling injuries, hand injuries, wounds or lacerations, and loss of control of power tools. Correlates of reported heat-related injuries included working in the sun without shade [PR: 1.26; 95% CI: 1.07–1.48] and too few rest breaks [PR: 1.28; 95% CI: 1.04–1.44]. Other factors of significance were inadequate hydration; issues with personal protective equipment (PPE) and poor supervision of workers. Only 42% reported that adequate heat training was available and 54% reported the provision for outdoor work to cease in extreme temperatures. It was acknowledged that the frequency of injuries could be reduced with wider adoption of self-pacing, and work/rest regimes. Perceived barriers for prevention included: lack of awareness of physical injury risks, and management concerns about productivity loss and/or deadlines. Conclusion: The findings indicate a range of potentially modifiable work and organisational risk factors such as more suitable PPE and better supervision. More attention to these factors, in conjunction with traditional interventions to reduce heat effects, could enhance injury prevention and labour productivity in people working in hot environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number137138
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume718
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2020

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    Varghese, B. M., Hansen, A. L., Williams, S., Bi, P., Hanson-Easey, S., Barnett, A. G., Heyworth, J. S., Sim, M. R., Rowett, S., Nitschke, M., Di Corleto, R., & Pisaniello, D. L. (2020). Determinants of heat-related injuries in Australian workplaces: Perceptions of health and safety professionals. Science of the Total Environment, 718, [137138]. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.137138