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The relationship between high ambient temperatures and workplace health and safety is increasingly relevant as global warming increases average temperatures across the world. Previous studies have shown that heat stress can cause a range of occupational injuries, with certain industries that involve working outdoors like agriculture, mining, and construction being particularly vulnerable. In Australia, the financial and social impact of heat-related injuries on both individuals and the healthcare system is significant. In a new study, researchers from Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra focused on quantifying the burden of occupational injuries attributable to high temperatures in Australia.

This was a retrospective observational study which analysed data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and Safe Work Australia in order to estimate the burden of occupational injuries as disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). The study spanned from July 2014 to June 2019 and included both years lived with disability (YLDs) and years of life lost (YLLs) due to occupational injuries. The researchers assessed this in light of the different climate zones in Australia, using a methodology that calculates the proportion of this burden attributable to heat exposure.

The study found that between 2014 and 2019, Australians lost an estimated 42,884 years of healthy life to occupational injuries, with heat-related injuries accounting for 967 DALYs (2.3 per cent of all occupational injury-related DALYs). As you might expect, the burden was disproportionately high in tropical climate zones. The highest rate of heat-attributable occupational injury burden was observed in the Northern Territory.

The findings indicate that a significant portion of the occupational injury burden in Australia is attributable to high temperatures, which the authors say emphasises the need for adaptive measures and industry-specific policies to protect workplace health and safety. As global temperatures continue to rise, the heat-attributable occupational injury burden is likely to increase, particularly in heat-exposed industries. The researchers suggest solutions might involve things like restructuring work hours and providing better facilities at worksites for cooling and hydration, to mitigate the impact of high temperatures on workers, especially in tropical and subtropical regions of Australia where the burden is highest.


Further information

The burden of occupational injury attributable to high temperatures in Australia, 2014–19 – a retrospective observational study: The Medical Journal of Australia

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