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Our team work in a weatherboard structure with no cooling. Last Friday temperatures exceeded 36C and by 9am I was already feeling dizzy. What are the guidelines around temperatures in a place of work? Are we within rights to request working from home under these circumstances?

Thanks for bringing up such an important and timely topic. People often assume heat only affects outdoor workers, but office workers are at risk too.

Heat exhaustion happens when we become dehydrated due to fluid loss from a hot environment and/or excessive physical activity. Symptoms of heat exhaustion can include dizziness.

If temperatures in your office are making you dizzy they pose a risk to health and safety and your employer is not meeting their section 21 OHS duty to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.

While there are no regulations covering temperature, your employer still has a duty to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health under section 21 of the OHS Act 2004. Under section 22, they have a duty to monitor the conditions of the workplace to ensure that they are safe – this includes temperature. 

WorkSafe’s workplace amenities and environment compliance code provides guidance for how employers can meet their obligations under the Act regarding safe temperature. It specifies that:

‘Optimum comfort for sedentary work is between 20°C and 26°C, depending on the time of year and clothing worn’.

And

‘Workplaces that are buildings need to be capable of maintaining a temperature range that is comfortable and suitable to the work. Workplace temperatures that are too high or too low can contribute to fatigue, heat illness and cold-related medical conditions.’

The first thing I would recommend doing is bringing up this issue with your HSR – or if you feel confident bringing it up yourself – so that they can talk to your employer. Your employer has a duty to consult employees and HSRs on matters of health and safety under s.35 of the Act. If they are open to solutions, work with your employer to have fans or air-conditioning installed to cool the workplace. The resource linked here is very useful, as it provides a list of strategies that can be taken to address heat in accordance with the hierarchy of controls.  Your employer should prioritise the top and work their way down.

WorkSafe’s Officewise guidance booklet provides useful recommendations to ensuring thermal comfort. You can find the booklet here.

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 the following action plan can be followed:

  1. Collect evidence of the problem - talk with your members and co-workers, do a survey, check temperature and workplace absences.
  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 (for information or advice).

If management does not agree that heat is a problem, or negotiations are taking too long, or you are not satisfied with the proposed actions, your health and safety representative can issue a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN) based on your and their belief that they are contravening the following sections of the Act:

  1. 21(1): to provide and maintain so far as is practicable for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.
  2. 21(2)(a): to provide plant & systems of work that are safe and without risks to health.
  3. 21(2)(c): to maintain the workplace...in a condition that is safe and without risks to health.
  4. 21(2)(d): to provide adequate facilities for the welfare of employees at (the) workplace.
  5. 22(1)(a): to monitor the health of the employees.
  6. 22(1)(b): to monitor conditions at (the) workplace

Regarding your right to ask to work from home in these instances. If your employer cannot provide a workplace that is safe to work in on hot days and working from home is reasonably practicable for employees in your workplace, then it can be argued that is a duty for them to make this option available for you under the OHS Act 2004. 

You can find more information on heat in the workplace on our website here and specific office based advice here

 

 

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