ANU researcher seeks hot workers

15 January 2014

As southern Australia swelters through another summer heatwave, a leading health researcher has called for the country to re-evaluate its approach to working in the heat.

Dr Liz Hanna from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health says every year, workers die from the effects of overheating, while heat strain can cause ongoing health problems.

Dr Hanna is leading a research project on how workers cope with the hot summer days, and she wants to hear their stories.

"The country cannot afford to shut down in the heat, and many jobs simply need to keep functioning," Dr Hanna says.

"But we cannot push workers until they collapse. We need to better understand what it feels like to be working in the heat, and at what temperatures do people start to feel the effects and have to slow down."

The research will help provide a national map of heat tolerance, and identify successful strategies for industry, and people, to cope with hot summers.

Dr Hanna is calling for people who work in extreme heat conditions to take part in the study, and would like to hear from both individuals and employers.

"We are interested in the levels of dehydration, work capacity and any health effects reported by people when working in hot environments, including heat rashes, headaches and irritability. We are also interested in learning what strategies are protective, and what does not help.

"Our aim is to generate information from hundreds of people that will assist Australia to keep functioning in summer without risking the health of workers."

In particular, she wants to understand the role acclimatisation plays for those who work outdoors in the searing summer heat.

"Acclimatisation is a physiological process that is supported by behavioural and technological responses to living in hot environments. It takes weeks for most people to fully acclimatise to hot weather, yet there are limits to our capacity to acclimatise, and some people never do," she says.

"It is astounding that in Australia, we know so little about how acclimatisation affects safe working temperatures across the varying climatic zones across Australia. And without this evidence, we are stabbing in the dark in terms of setting trigger points for initiating heat policies. "

Those interested in taking part can contact

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