With the mid-summer heat well and truly upon us, it’s worth asking which jobs are the most prone to heat-related deaths and illnesses. From an occupational health and safety standpoint, there are a number of risks with operating under the sun for prolonged periods of time. These risks can often amount to an existential crisis for an organisation in the case of heat-related illness, or even deaths.
From a humane standpoint, these deaths are particularly tragic when you consider just how easily an organisation can mitigate the threat of deaths in their operations.
The scope of the problem is likely more severe than you might have initially expected. It’s estimated that around 2% of deaths in Australia between 2006 and 2017 could in one way be attributed to heat exposure. This number jumps to more than 4% of deaths recorded in just over a decade for central and Northern parts of the country, where the temperatures rise dramatically.
Just a few months ago, we reported on the Best Practice News Page that a farmer was fined $65,000 for the death of a Belgian backpacker on his property. The farmer pleaded guilty to violations of Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act.
While you might not hear about cases like these on a regular basis, they are a stark reality for employees and their employers, who are responsible for keeping them safe and healthy while at work.
Thanks to recent research conducted by the ABC, we’re able to present you with a list of the jobs that are most prone to heat-related deaths and illnesses. Authors of that report say that “Australian death records underestimate the association between heat and mortality at least 50-fold and chronic heat stress is also under-reported.”
Analysis from one study put workers’ compensation claims under the microscope for workers in Adelaide between 2003 and 2013. That study found that workers at highest risk of heat exposure impacting their heat were engaged in the following industries:
- Animal and Horticultural workers
- Food Service Workers
- Mental Workers
- Warehouse Workers
The authors of that study added in their notes that heat exposure “poses a greater problem than cold weather. This is of particular concern as the number of hot days is projected to increase.” A team made primarily of the same researchers published another study that observed workplace illnesses and deaths related to heat exposure in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.
The findings of that study suggest that groups particularly affected by heat-related illnesses included:
- Workers under the age of 34, predominantly male workers
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing employees
- Electricity, gas and water utility workers
- Apprentice and trainee workers
- Labour hire workers
- Those engaged in medium and heavy-strengthed occupations
- Outdoor workers and those employed in an indoor warehouse or industrial sector
- Production and transport workers, machinery and vehicle operators
A review of the available research on heat-related illnesses and deaths has found that “young workers, male workers and workers in agriculture, forestry or fishing, construction and manufacturing industries were at high risk of occupational injuries during hot temperatures.”
The authors continued to explain that “further, young workers, male workers and those working in electricity, gas and water and manufacturing industries were found to be at high risk of occupational injuries during heatwaves.”