Humidity should be benchmark for tradies to down tools in Queensland, expert recommends

Humidity and not temperature should be the key factor in developing a 'down tools' policy for tradespeople in Queensland, according to a leading heat stress doctor.

President of the Climate and Health Alliance, Dr Liz Hannah, said humidity was the main source of heat stress in Queensland.

The ABC has previously revealed that Queensland tradesmen want the CFMEU to investigate a heat stress policy for the state.

In Victoria and South Australia, tradesmen on union-affiliated job sites down tools when the temperature reaches 35 degrees Celsius.

We have to have guidelines in Queensland that reflect the level of intensity and reflect the climactic variables, such as humidity.

Dr Liz Hannah

In Queensland, the CFMEU recommends extra breaks during heat waves.

Dr Hannah said the 35C down tools policy worked well in Victoria and South Australia because the humidity in those states was usually low.

"In the top half of Australia, the humidity is really unpleasant," she said.

Dr Hannah said our bodies cooled by sweating, and the evaporation of sweat.

"When the air is saturated, as in very humid, you don't have that evaporation," she said.

"Your rate of cooling is slower which basically means your body heats up more and you can't shed that heat.

"High humidity and temperatures in the high 20s, low 30s can be very difficult to work in.

"We have to have guidelines in Queensland that reflect the level of intensity and reflect the climactic variables, such as humidity."

Tradies in Queensland can feel heat stress at 26C. Photo: Tradies in Queensland can experience heat stress when the temperature is 26C, an expert warns. (Supplied: Dr Liz Hannah)

Queensland unions urged to 'look after workers'

Dr Hannah surveyed more than 500 people who worked outdoors and recorded onsite temperatures to find out when people started exhibiting signs of heat stress, including cramping, headaches and vomiting.

"Queensland tradies exhibit signs of heat stress during periods of high humidity," she said.

She said high humidity at 26C could cause tradies heat stress, and if the humidity hit above 60 per cent, tradies should start restricting their activities.

"At high-level humidity [70 per cent and above] all activities should be cancelled," Dr Hannah said.

She said tradesmen were forced to work during periods of high temperatures and high humidity in Queensland summers.

"If you book a builder to build your house, there'll be a clause in there for rain delays," she said.

"We need the same for heat and humidity.

"You can't sue a builder for taking too long to build a house because of the heat."

Dr Hannah said Queensland unions should develop policies based on humidity to ensure the safety of their members.

"What we don't want is deaths on the job," she said.

"If people don't die they can still have major organ problems if you seriously overheat.

"Everyone has a duty of care.

"If the unions aren't looking after these people, I'm not quite sure who will."

Source: ABC News

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