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.
Remember too that heat is not just an issue for people working outside.
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:
- 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 hazard page), etc.
- Make an appointment to meet with the employer again.
- Initiate negotiations to control the hazard at source.
- Propose that a heat policy be developed in consultation with management and members.
- 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, 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, contravention of Sections:
- 21(1): to provide and maintain so far as is practicable for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health
- 21(2)(a): to provide plant & systems of work that are safe and without risks to health
- 21(2)(c): to maintain the workplace...in a condition that is safe and without risks to health
- 21(2)(d): to provide adequate facilities for the welfare of employees at (the) workplace
- 22(1)(a): to monitor the health of the employees
- 22(1)(b): to monitor conditions at (the) workplace
(Either some or all of the above will be appropriate)
The Victorian Compliance Code for Workplace amenities and work environment includes provisions that can be used to protect workers from heat stress - in particular:
- 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. (122)
- Optimum comfort for sedentary work is between 20°C and 26°C, depending on the time of the year and clothing worn. Employees undertaking work requiring physical exertion usually prefer a lower temperature range. (124)
- The means of maintaining a comfortable temperature will depend on the working environment and the weather and could include any of the following (125):
- air conditioning
- electric heating
- open windows
- building insulation
- the layout of workstations
- direct sunlight control
- controllling airflow and the source of draughts
- a work and rest regime
All heating and cooling facilities need to be serviced regularly and maintained in a safe condition (126)
- Air movement throughout a workplace is necessary for the health and comfort of employees. Employers need to ensure workplaces that are buildings provide natural ventilation, or mechanical ventilation which complies with AS 1668 The use of ventilation and airconditioning in buildings. In enclosed workplaces, employers need to ensure that comfortable rates of air movements (usually between 0.1m and 0.2m per second) are maintained. (128 - 131)
- Further, employers are also required to provide clean drinking water for employees at all times. (34-39)
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 - some form of cooling is needed);
- providing portable air cooling cabinets, which may reduce the air temperature by up to 6°C;
- providing properly designed 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 (more casually) 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:
- Make sure the worker is OK - organise first aid or whatever other assistance the worker needs;
- Direct that work in that section cease [as per Section 74(1) of the Act];
- 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;
- Complete a "Heat - related Incident Investigation Form" (go to the page on Heat on this site)