January 2019 was Australia’s hottest month on record since records began in 1910. The Bureau of Meteorology described its climate summary for the month as “unprecedented” and said global warming contributed to the heatwave. Temperatures soared across the country but were highest in Port Augusta, S.A, reaching up to 49.5C.
Extreme heat is a health and safety hazard. According to Safe Work Australia, the human body needs to maintain a temperature of around 37 degrees Celsius – the optimum temperature. If the temperature of the human body becomes too high, heat-related illness is the result.
Extreme heat is not just an issue for outdoor workers. All workplaces have an obligation to manage extreme heat, and everybody involved with a business has their part to play.
What happens if you develop heat-related illness?
If your body has to work too hard to stay cool or is unable to cool itself, the result is heat-related illness. Symptoms can range from rashes to cramps to reduced concentration. Heat exhaustion is what happens when the body is working too hard to stay cool while heat stroke, which can be deadly, takes place when the body is unable to.
Who has legal risks?
Every employer has a responsibility to provide workers with a safe place to work. Risking employee’s health and safety by failing to maintain a safe temperature to work in can leave employers liable for WorkCover claims and Occupational Health and Safety Investigations. Everybody has legal responsibilities, not just bosses.
Who has legal duties under Workplace Health and Safety?
Under WH&S laws, everyone involved with a workplace has a responsibility to minimise the risks involved with working in heat. The person(s) running the business have a responsibility to eliminate minimise risks as much as possible and to consult with workers. Building designers and manufacturers have a responsibility that buildings are designed and installed with adequate safety measures in place. Company directors must exercise due diligence to ensure the workplace complies with WH&S regulations while workers have a duty to take reasonable care of their own safety and those of other employees.
What to do if your workplace is unreasonably hot
If heat is a problem you’ve previously raised with your workplace and they haven’t done anything about it, you don’t have to simply tolerate it. Gather evidence of the issue by speaking to your fellow workers, collecting surveys etc. Meet with your employer again, negotiate a way to control the cause or source, and propose to develop a heat policy with management. Contact your union or workplace inspector for advice. If your workplace fails to improve the situation, inform management that you will be issuing a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN). Details on how to do this should be available from your state’s occupational health and safety organisation, such as SafeWork NSW or WorkSafe VIC.
Workers Compensation is intended to support workers who have been injured on the job. Our legal team are experts in worker’s compensation law and will help you make a claim so you can regain your independence. The rules around worker’s compensation vary from state to state so for more information and to select your relevant region contact us today.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: February 4, 2019.