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How Thermal Stress Affects You

Heading into summer, there are certain aspects in your role on a mining site that become more difficult. One of the biggest factors that work against us in mining, is heat. Thermal stress (or heat stress) is a common health risk facing miners. Any mining environment can be hot, but especially for miners in Australia. Over time, thermal stress can have an impact on you and your overall health. Being overexposed to humidity and heat distresses the body, causing fatigue, heat rashes, and a variety of other health issues.

Heat exposure is a real problem in the industry, especially in summer months. There have been many serious incidents of heat-related stress which both involves hospitalisation or even death. What this means, is that there is an increased need for the mining and exploration sectors to consider procedures for protecting workers and for dealing with heat-related illnesses.

In the mining and exploration industry, risk management should be used to manage heat exposure. Here are some of the important heat-related illnesses to be aware of.

Heat Rash

This is one of the minor results of thermal stress. In addition to heat rash, you may experience sunburn. If your skin is blistering you will need to seek medical assistance, if, however, you are experiencing heat rash a change of clothes will help. It’s a common occurrence in a hot and humid environment.

Heat stroke

The symptoms of heat stroke include shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat, throbbing headache, nausea, vomiting, skin that is hot, dry, and red, dizziness, and muscle cramps. Severe heat stroke may require hospitalisation and can take as long as two months to fully recover from. It can result in brain damage, organ failure, and if allowed to go untreated, it can result in death.

 Cardiac function

Thermal stress puts additional work on every part of your body, especially the heart. This additional stress on your body increases the risk of stroke and heart attacks. This is why it’s imperative that preventative measures are put in place for miners.

Many factors will also make a difference in the way individuals are affected by heat, and individual factors like physical fitness, age, chronic skin disorders, pre-existing conditions, e.g. diabetes, previous heat illness-susceptibility, habitual alcohol use, obesity and the use of medications affecting thermoregulation are all relevant to effects.

Other medical factors should also be taken into account, and if you relate to the below, extra care should be taken to avoid excessive risks. Common medications can affect heat tolerance and thermoregulation, including beta-blockers, which can inhibit exercise tolerance, antihistamines which might inhibit sweating, angina treatments which can cause a drop in blood pressure, diuretics, which might cause dehydration, anti-inflammatories and analgesics which can interfere with thermoregulation and tranquillisers/sedatives like antidepressants and sleeping tablets can lower your heat tolerance and might drop blood pressure.

There are ways to combat this risk, including protective equipment, clothing, work rate and hydration. It becomes more difficult for the body to regulate temperature when in a state of dehydration so it’s vital that miners drink enough water.

Quick Tip: Drink a minimum of one litre of water per 25 kilograms of your body weight each day when working outside to ensure you are well-hydrated.

Ideally, engineering solutions could be put in place to control the temperature of the working environment. Failing that, there is specialised equipment available to provide workers with breathable fabrics and personal cooling systems. Of course, training here is paramount.

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