UnionsACT calls for vigilance and increased Worksafe inspections during heatwaves

UnionsACT has today called for workers and employers to increase their vigilance about working in heat as the ACT faces the start of heat-wave season. The union peak body also calls on Worksafe to increase inspections of industries at high risk of extremely hot working conditions, including construction, aged care and hospitality.

Hot weather is a workplace safety issue, and working in high temperatures can have serious health impacts for working people, with Safe Work Australia warning that heat stress can be fatal.

Symptoms of heat stress and dehydration from working in hot weather can cause serious health problems, including nausea, fainting, weakness, dizziness, headache and impaired mental function.

Employers have legal obligations to workers to ensure the health and safety of employees, and this includes working in hot weather and during heat waves. This obligation for employers extends to all workplaces, including offices, restaurants and retail stores, not just work outdoors. Employers also have obligations to volunteers.

Employers must provide protective clothing and equipment, and to reduce risks of injury from hot weather, for example, providing sun-hats, sun-cream, plentiful drinking water, fans and air conditioning. During hot weather, employers should also ensure workers are given appropriate rest-time.

Employees who are feeling unwell, or notice symptoms of stress in co-workers, because of the hot weather should report this to their supervisor, and to their health and safety representative. Workers have the legal right under the WHS Act to take reasonable care for their health and safety, including to stop work if they feel their health is seriously at risk.

The following quotes are attributable to Alex White, secretary of UnionsACT:

“Working in heat is a serious workplace safety issue, not just for people working outdoors, but also for a range of work indoors, including in aged care facilities, offices, and retail and hospitality.

“There is more to working in heat than just the temperature, and the health impacts can be very serious. Heat stroke is potentially life-threatening.

“As Canberra is facing its hottest day since February, employers and working people should be aware of the risks. Employers in particular must understand their obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act.

“We hope Worksafe is proactive this Summer, and increases inspections of high-risk industries including restaurants, aged care facilities and construction sites.”