Quick Guide to Working in Heat

Make sure you (or your crew) stay cool, safe and productive all year round -- indoors or outdoors -- especially during El Niño and hot days ahead.

We’ve seen it in the news:

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) forecasts that from December 2023 to February 2024:

  • The maximum and minimum temperatures are at least 2.5 times more likely than normal to be unusually high (above median) for much of Australia.
  • Rainfall is likely to be below average across much of northern and western Australia and much of Tasmania.

You’re probably even feeling the heat in your skin. It’s not even officially summer but it somehow already feels like it. Nevertheless, business must go on. The risks of dehydration, heat-related illness and heat stress shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially during the hot weeks ahead.

In this article, we discuss:

Disclaimer: AIMS is not a work health and safety (WHS) expert, therefore the information provided herein should not be treated as legal or professional advice. This article only aims to compile resources that may be helpful to your business. Official sources of information are cited. No copyright infringement is intended.


Common effects of working in heat 

Maintaining a normal body temperature is crucial for the health and safety of workers. When the body works excessively to cool down or begins to overheat, it can be vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. 

When we say working in heat, we mean any work that involves “in or near heat”. That applies to any work performed indoors and outdoors, regardless of time of the day and season (although we can agree that the risks are higher during summer). 

According to Safe Work Australia (SWA) in their Guide for managing the risks of working in heat

  • Working in heat can be hazardous and can cause harm to workers.
  • As a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you have a duty to keep workers and your workplace safe from the risks of working in heat (which we cover in the next section).
  • Workers may suffer from heat-related illness if the body has to work too hard to keep cool or starts to overheat.
  • Heat-related illness is a “general term to describe a range of progressive heat-related conditions including fainting, heat rash, heat cramps and heat stroke.”

Moreover, the guide lists the common primary symptoms of heat-related illness as:

  • Dehydration from increased sweating if workers aren’t drinking enough water
  • Heat rash that leads to skin irritation and discomfort
  • Heat cramps that result from heavy sweating without replacing salt and electrolytes
  • Fainting particularly when workers stand or rise from a sitting position
  • Heat stroke from when the body can no longer cool itself, which can be fatal, so make sure to check the ‘First aid’ section below

There are also secondary symptoms that should also be taken seriously:

  • Burns can occur if a worker comes into contact with hot surfaces or tools, so make sure they are using heat-resistant gloves.
  • Slips, as a worker will sweat more in hot conditions which can increase the risk of slips (eg a worker might slip when using sharp tools if their hands are damp).
  • Reduced concentration that can lead to confusion and increased likelihood of making mistakes, such as forgetting to guard machinery.
  • Increased chemical uptake into the body may occur as the heat causes the body to absorb chemicals differently and can increase the side effects of some medications.

Note: How hot a worker feels will be different in every situation, depending on the individual worker, the work they are doing and the environment in which they are working.


Health and safety duties

Exposure to high temperatures during work poses significant hazards and can lead to harm for employees. As a business, it's your responsibility to ensure the safety of both your workforce and the workplace, mitigating the risks associated with working in heat. 

Moreover, safety should be a priority across the board, as everyone is expected to take all reasonably practicable measures to eliminate -- or at least minimise -- the risks of working in heat.

PCBUs (Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking) and officers are obligated to take reasonable measures to ensure that employees, volunteers and anyone else involved in the business are not exposed to health and safety hazards. In relation to working in heat, they must ensure:

  • Proper ventilation to enable workers to carry out their tasks without compromising health and safety
  • Workers operating in extreme temperatures, either hot or cold, can perform their duties without endangering their health and safety

We covered the WHS laws in this article, and specifically the PCBU compliance to ‘primary duty of care’ in this section (in relevance to WHS Act Section 19).

As for workers and ‘other persons at the workplace’, they have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and to not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons. They are expected to comply with reasonable instructions, as far as they are reasonably able, and cooperate with reasonable health and safety policies or procedures that have been notified to them.


How to manage the risks of working in heat

The section ‘Managing the risks of heat’ of the Guide for managing the risks of working in heat (page 7) provides comprehensive guidelines to manage the risks associated with working in heat. It outlines a structured approach that involves consultation, identification, assessment, control and review of the risks.

Here is a breakdown:

  1. Identification of hazards: Assess various factors such as air temperature, flow, humidity, radiant heat sources, and work requirements to identify heat-related hazards. You should also engage all duty holders and the workers themselves to review incident records, including near-misses, to help identify risks at your workplace.
  2. Risk assessment: Determine the severity and likelihood of risks, considering various factors such as work environment, physical exertion, personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing worn, individual health conditions and forecasts / potential impact of heatwaves.
  3. Risk control: Remember that heat that represents a hazard to workers may be generated by more than just weather conditions. Hence, you may find a combination of controls to be the most effective for mitigating relevant risks. Here are some examples of ways you could manage the risks associated with working in heat using the following approaches:





    Remove the risk if reasonably practicable. 

    Cancel work tasks or wait for hot conditions to pass. 


    Replace hazardous practices with safer alternatives. 

    Have workers do work in a cooler environment. 


    Physically separate the source of harm from workers. 

    Separate workers from hot machinery. Use physical barriers (ie cones and fencing) to ensure it is clear where the hot machinery is located. 

    Engineering controls 

    Implement control measures that are physical in nature, including a mechanical device or process. 

    Set up physical measures such as shade tents, cooling systems and industrial fans, insulation and air flow improvements. 

    Administrative controls 

    Implement procedures, training, supervision and emergency plans. 

    Schedule more physically demanding activities to be completed in the cooler parts of the day. Or, if possible, ensure workers are not working alone so there is always a buddy that can call for help should the unfortunate happen. 


    Use suitable safety wearables, considering their limitations and potential impacts on heat-related risks. 

    Modify uniforms or dress codes so workers can wear cooler and more breathable clothing (without compromising safety) 


    Consider the body’s adaptation to heat. 

    Consult safety professionals, such as an occupational hygienist, to help you implement relevant safety measures. 


    Ensure access to cool drinking water and electrolyte replacement therapy when needed. 

    Make sure hydrating beverages such as Sqwincers (kept cold in portable coolers) are always available on work sites for all workers. 

  4. Review of control measures: Regularly review and assess the effectiveness of implemented controls. It’s best if you involve workers in the review process, monitor incidents, and consider new developments or information to refine control measures. 

The emphasis lies on a thorough assessment of factors affecting heat exposure, implementing a range of control measures, providing appropriate training, monitoring workers and continuously reviewing the effectiveness of measures taken.


First aid for heat-related incidents in the workplace

According to SWA: “Heat-related illness is a progressive condition and if left untreated it can be fatal. If you think someone has severe heat exhaustion, or heat stroke, you should call an ambulance immediately and perform first aid until an ambulance arrives.”

For the early stages of heat-related illness first aid can often be effective, but you should always seek medical assistance if in doubt, or if the person’s symptoms are severe.



First aid (“them” refers to the worker) 


  • Extreme thirst
  • Dry lips and tongue
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of concentration
  • Less / Darker pee 
  • Drink water. No drinks with caffeine or alcohol.
  • Loosen tight clothing (and remove unnecessary clothes).
  • Replace electrolytes (Sqwinchers can help). 

Heat rash 


  • Itchy rashes with small red spots on the face, neck, back, chest or thighs 
  • Move where it’s cooler and less humid.
  • Keep the affected area dry, take off extra clothes and PPE.
  • Apply cold compress (on the affected area). 
  • Painful cramps in the muscles, especially when doing intensive physical work 
  • Take a rest immediately.
  • Drink an electrolyte solution like Sqwincher.


  • Dizzying feeling (that can happen while standing or rising from a sitting position)
  • Don't lift their head.
  • Lay them flat with their legs a bit up.
  • Seek medical help immediately.

Heat stroke 

  • Dehydration
  • Reduced urine
  • Sweating
  • Body temperature above 39 Celsius
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Cramps
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Tingling
  • Rapid breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures
  • Cardiac arrest

*Not all heat-induced signs may be present

Call 000 emergency services immediately.

Follow the DRSABCD action plan.

Move the worker where it’s cooler, less humid and has better air circulation.

Loosen tight clothing (and remove unnecessary clothes).

Cooling methods (if safe):

  • Immerse the person in a cold water bath (1–7˚C) for 15 minutes.

  • Continuously monitor their airway.

  • Stop cooling if shivering starts, cover until shivering stops, then resume first aid.

Alternatives if no cold bath: 

  • Use cool water on the skin, create airflow around the body.

  • Apply cold packs to neck, groin and armpits.

Supportive care: 

  • If the worker is conscious, sit him/her up to drink cool fluids (electrolyte solution with sugar).

  • Do not give fluids if unconscious.

Important: Workers taking specific medications, having pre-existing medical conditions or prior heat-related illnesses are at a heightened risk of experiencing heat-related issues. This influences the appropriate approach to their treatment. It's crucial to inform employees about this risk and, as much as feasibly possible, closely monitor them for any signs of heat-related illness.

More resources from Safe Work Australia:

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