Worksafe’s Advice on Mining Air Conditioning
Every employee and contractor has the right to expect a working environment that is as safe and comfortable as the job allows. At minimum, that means attention to health and safety on the part of the employer. If workplace risks can’t be eliminated, then they should be approached with awareness and minimised as much as possible. Everyone knows that this way of thinking applies to things like the risk of falling, the use of dangerous tools and machines, and exposure to potentially harmful substances. However, the work environment itself can pose a risk, especially if the temperature is far too hot or too cold. Workers have a right to expect an environment that allows for a reasonable level of comfort, and smart employers know that an unhealthy and uncomfortable environment means workers will not be as productive.
Heat Strain and Heat Exhaustion
In mining, the greatest environmental threat to worker wellbeing is heat. A too-hot environment is more than just uncomfortable; it can also be dangerous. Heat can contribute to accidents by impairing concentration, physical performance and coordination, but heat stress can also be deadly in and of itself. The symptoms include dizziness, nausea, clammy skin, increased heart rate, confusion, headache and a feeling of weakness. Overheating can bring on cramps, rashes and fainting, as well.
“Working in high heat environments can put workers at risk of impaired performance, heat illnesses and heat stroke. Impaired performance may result in unsafe acts and heat may also tend to promote accidents due to sweaty palms or impairment of vision through fogging of safety glasses.”
—Managing the Work Environment and Facilities Code of Practice, Worksafe Australia
The Importance of Air Conditioning and Ventilation
Worksafe Australia and the state Worksafe agencies all have advice on working in heat. The first thing to think about is how to keep the heat moderated and in control. First, you’ll want to make sure that all the enclosed spaces, including vehicle and equipment cabs and offices, are air conditioned. Worksafe also recommends providing air conditioned rest areas that are accessible from all work areas.
In a mining operation, it is not usually possible to air condition every workspace, however, providing strong ventilation is an absolute necessity. A steady flow of air will create a cooling breeze that helps workers take advantage of evaporative cooling through perspiration. Then, the ventilation replaces the resulting humid air with drier air.
“Use engineering controls to prevent or minimise heat illness. Examples include… installing air conditioners or coolers to reduce air temperature and generate air movement; isolating workers from the hot process by locating them in air conditioned control rooms.”
—Working in Heat Guidance Note, Worksafe Victoria
As always, Lyons Air Conditioning provides automotive air conditioning, mining air conditioning and air conditioning parts and services to businesses and individuals in Perth and throughout Western Australia. If you have a dangerously hot work environment, then talk to us about how you can minimise the risk of illness and injury and protect yourself and your workers.