Too Hot To handle?
Heat - When is it too hot to keep working?
Excessive heat is both a health and safety hazard. Working in hot conditions can result in a number of adverse health effects - ranging from discomfort to serious illness and even death.
Unfortunately, in Victoria there are NO specific statutory or regulatory limits on the temperature to which workers can be exposed. But that doesn't mean that you can't do anything for your members regarding excessive heat in the workplace - your employer is expected to prevent your workplace being uncomfortably hot. Your employer has a duty of care under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act (2004) to provide a healthy and safe workplace. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 35 - 40°C is considered to be the 'limit of high temperature tolerance' for most people.
If heat has been a problem you have tried to address at the workplace before and the employer has not done anything about it, then:
1. Collect evidence of the problem - talk with your members, do a survey, check temperatures, absences, ask people to fill in Heat - related Incident Investigation Forms (download from the 'Heat and Work' hazards page), etc.
2. Make an appointment to meet with the employer again.
3. Initiate negotiations to control the hazard at source.
4. Propose that a heat policy be developed in consultation with management and members.
5. Contact your union or a WorkSafe inspector.
If management does not agree that it's a problem, or negotiations are taking too long, then inform management that you will be issuing a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN) based on your belief that he is contravening the Act, in particular, Sections:
* 21(1): provide and maintain so far as is practicable for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health
* 21(2)(a): plant & systems of work
* 21(2)(c): maintain the workplace...in a condition that is safe and without risks to health
* 21(2)(d): provide adequate facilities for the welfare of employees at (the) workplace
* 22(1)(a): monitor the health of the employees
* 22(1)(b): monitor conditions at (the) workplace
(Check which of the above is appropriate)
The Victorian Code of Practice for Workplaces also refers to heat:
* Section 48: The workplace environment should be maintained wihthin a temperature range to protect employees from thermal stress.
* Section 49: Ventilation, mechanical cooling methods and/or work practices should be arranged to counteract excessive heat.
Note: as of July 1, 2005, the information in this code is considered to be part of the 'state of knowledge'. It may or may not become a Compliance Code under the 2004 Act.
There are many steps which employers may take to assess risk and provide more comfortable working during hot weather. These include:
providing adequate ventilation, and fans (but above 27°C fans are ineffective at cooling the air);
providing portable air cooling cabinets, which may reduce the air temperature by up to 6°C;
providing properly designed ventilation, air conditioning will be most effective, and ensuring it is properly maintained so it does not break down in the middle of a heat wave;
reducing heat gain via windows by reflective film or blinds, and by reducing window area, and moving desks and workstations away from windows;
allowing staff to dress appropriately for hot weather, e.g. allowing ties, tights or jackets to be removed or shorts to be worn;
if it is impossible to provide a comfortable air temperature, or as a temporary measure until a permanent solution is put in place, reducing staff exposure to hot work. This can be done through frequent rest breaks in a cool area where cold drinks are provided, job rotation, or altering work during the hottest part of the day.
For more information and advice, go to the page on Heat on this site.
If your members are complaining of extreme heat, or if someone has either fainted or there has been another heat-related incident the situation is such that there is an immediate risk to health. In this circumstance, the VTHC recommends the following:
1. Make sure the worker is OK - organise first aid or whatever other assistance the worker needs;
2. Direct that work in that section cease [as per Section 74(1) of the Act];
3. Go to your employer/supervisor immediately to advise them of the incident and the stop work and to discuss what actions need to be taken now;
4. Complete a "Heat - related Incident Investigation Form" (go to the page on Heat on this site)