How to avoid heat-related illness


Farmers typically spend a lot of time in the sun and are a particularly high-risk group when it comes to heat-related illness and/or skin cancer from exposure to high levels of UV radiation.

It’s clear that Aussie farmers need to be vigilant about managing the time spent in the sun and the heat.
The term ‘heat-related illness’ is a general term used to describe a range of medical conditions that can happen when the body is unable to cope with working in heat. These medical conditions include:

Dehydration – which can make the heart work faster and lead to reduced fluid available for sweating

Heat cramps – painful cramps in muscles, caused by heavy sweating that uses up the body's supply of salt and water.

Heat exhaustion – the body’s response to excessive loss of salt and water through sweating. Symptoms include: weakness, fatigue, dizziness, visual disturbance, feeling of intense thirst and heat, nausea, vomiting, palpitations, tingling and numbness of fingers and/or toes after exposure to a hot environment. If heat exhaustion  isn’t treated, it can turn into heat stroke

Heat stroke – a life threatening emergency that requires immediate first aid and medical attention to lower the body temperature as quickly as possible. Symptoms are dry, hot skin, high body temperature (possibly over 41°C) and may include mental confusion which can result in collapse and fitting.

So, what can you do to avoid heat-related illness? Here are our five top tips for avoiding any conditions associated with heat-related illness.

  1. Use mechanical aids and equipment as much as practicable, to reduce physical exertion.
  2. Plan work routines and monitor weather forecasts so that outdoor work tasks are done early in the morning or later in the afternoon when the levels of ultra-violet radiation (UVR) from the sun are lower.
  3. Share outdoor tasks and rotate staff so the same person is not always out in the sun.
  4. Provide regular breaks away from the sun in a clean, cool, well-ventilated (air conditioned where possible) area, such as inside a shed or vehicle.
  5. Provide easy access to cool drinking water.
  6. Ensure that work is paced to meet the conditions.

For more information about heat-related illness and how to avoid it, check out Safe Work NSW’s resources.

You can find out more about heat-related illnesses by downloading and reading NSW Health’s fact sheet.

For information about sun safety, outdoor work and skin cancer check out the Cancer Council website.