Heat mapping tool to help construction bosses left sweating over future heatwaves

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
4 Min Read

As construction workers, we know most days on site will be hard-yakka, no matter the weather. 

But being on the tools in plus 30-degree Celsius heat all week is enough for many to start thinking they’re in the wrong career entirely.

Thankfully, a new nationwide heat mapping tool is set to help Aussie construction workers cool off the effects of extreme heat waves while on the job. 

The federal government’s release of the Heat-Health Risk Index will help identify risks to workers, residents and decision-makers during heat waves.

Experts say the tool could be used to better prepare, plan, and schedule work by identifying heat-related risk factors for each region. 

The online software will help provide some cooling relief to building industry bosses left sweating ahead of next summer.  

The Heat-Health Risk Index will help site safety coordinators plan around heat risks.

They hope to avoid a repeat of recent heat stress scenarios such as construction worker and father-of-three Daniel Talolua Sa’u, who passed away in his car after working in 37 C heat at a Brisbane Cross River Rail project site late last year, where another 25 workers were allegedly hospitalised. 

SafeWork Australia data shows there were 1774 accepted workers’ compensation claims resulting from working in heat between 2010 and 2020. With 1679 (95%) of such claims directly result from working outside in the sun. 

Meanwhile, it’s estimated that in labour productivity alone, Australia loses $8.7 billion per year due to heatwaves.

When it comes to the general population the effects are even worse, with extreme heat leading to more deaths and hospital admissions annually than any other hazard nationwide. 

The Heat-Health Risk Index project was developed by the Australian Climate Service, a partnership between the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and Geoscience Australia.

It uses community-level data such as housing and access to transportation, socioeconomic and health status, and factors like vegetation and available services to create a risk factor score.

Heat risk factors are shown specific to parts of individual suburbs.

Overall Heat-Health Risk is the broadest level and provides a single number describing the ranking of places from low to high risk. 

That number can also be disaggregated to better understand risk components such as exposure, social vulnerability and adaptive capacity.

The results paint a stark picture of how heatwave impacts vary between populations and locations nationwide.

Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Jenny McAllister, says the tool will provide a better understanding of climate risks at a suburb-by-suburb level. 

“Australians know that climate change is real. Understanding the impacts of extreme heat on the health of our communities is critical to improving outcomes,” she said. 

“Adapting to climate risk is a task for all of us. Mapping tools like the Heat-Health Index allow communities to better prepare and respond at a local level.” 

Ms McAllister says the software will also help urban planners and construction decision-makers identify ways future projects can be designed to better adapt communities to the effects of heat-stress. 

“It will mean local organisations and councils can not only identify what areas are most at risk of heat stress, but also identify what factors make a difference like housing conditions and access to green space or transport,” she said.

“By including factors like language, vegetation, and housing; local areas can tailor their response to best fit the needs of communities. It will help identify locations for cool refuges like libraries or where green canopy can be planted.”

To view the Heat-Health Risk Index visit: Heat and our health

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.