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Characterising the impact of heatwaves on work-related injuries and illnesses in three Australian cities using a standard heatwave definition- Excess Heat Factor (EHF)

Abstract

Background and Aims:

Heatwaves have potential health and safety implications for many workers, and heatwaves are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity with climate change. There is currently a lack of comparative evidence for the effects of heatwaves on workers’ health and safety in different climates (sub-tropical and temperate). This study examined the relationship between heatwave severity (as defined by the Excess Heat Factor) and workers’ compensation claims, to define impacts and identify workers at higher risk.

Methods:

Workers’ compensation claims data from Australian cities with temperate (Melbourne and Perth) and subtropical (Brisbane) climates for the years 2006–2016 were analysed in relation to heatwave severity categories (low and moderate/high severity) using time-stratified case-crossover models.

Results:

Consistent impacts of heatwaves were observed in each city with either a protective or null effect during heatwaves of low-intensity while claims increased during moderate/high-severity heatwaves compared with non-heatwave days. The highest effect during moderate/high-severity heatwaves was in Brisbane (RR 1.45, 95% CI: 1.42–1.48). Vulnerable worker subgroups identified across the three cities included: males, workers aged under 34 years, apprentice/trainee workers, labour hire workers, those employed in medium and heavy strength occupations, and workers from outdoor and indoor industrial sectors.

Conclusion:

These findings show that work-related injuries and illnesses increase during moderate/high-severity heatwaves in both sub-tropical and temperate climates. Heatwave forecasts should signal the need for heightened heat awareness and preventive measures to minimise the risks to workers.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank SafeWork Australia and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology for the provision of the workers’ compensation claims and meteorological data. Special thanks to Dr Susan Williams for providing comments on the manuscript.

Funding

This research is funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC Project ID DP160103059 to Dino Pisaniello). BMV is supported by the University of Adelaide Faculty Of Health Sciences Divisional Scholarship. AGB is supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (APP1117784).

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Correspondence to Dino L. Pisaniello.

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Varghese, B.M., Barnett, A.G., Hansen, A.L. et al. Characterising the impact of heatwaves on work-related injuries and illnesses in three Australian cities using a standard heatwave definition- Excess Heat Factor (EHF). J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 29, 821–830 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-019-0138-1

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Keywords:

  • Heatwave
  • Morbidity
  • Workers health and safety

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