Following the continued heatwave across the ACT, UnionsACT is today calling for stronger and clearer regulations for working-in-heat.
While some industries and collective agreements have clear requirements about working when there is extreme heat, there is no clear standard in the ACT for employers and employees.
Hot weather is a workplace safety issue, and working in high temperatures can have serious health impacts for working people.
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 an obligation to 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 right under the ACT Work Health and Safety Act to take reasonable care for their health and safety. These rights also extend to volunteers.
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 has faced a long heat-wave, it is important for working people, employers and the community to be aware of the risks. Employers in particular should ensure they understand their obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act. Community organisations also have duties of care to volunteers.
“With the ACT and Australia facing more and longer heatwaves from global warming, UnionsACT believes that there should be clearer, and stronger, regulations for working in heat.”