As average temperatures continue to rise across Australia, workers need to know their rights and how to protect themselves when it comes to extreme heat in the workplace.
This past decade was the hottest on record for Australia. Temperatures were almost 1C above average, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
Extreme heat is a health and safety hazard, with serious heat-related illness potentially fatal. The human body needs to maintain a temperature of around 37 degrees Celsius if the temperature of the human body becomes too high, heat-related illness is the result.
Heat management is an issue for more than just outdoor workplaces. 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 works too hard to stay cool or is unable to cool itself, the result is heat-related illness. This includes dehydration, cramps, exhaustion, stroke and worsening of any existing medical conditions.
Symptoms of heat-related illness include:
- Excessive thirst
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle pain
- Heavy sweating
Heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke, which can be life-threatening. If someone experiences heat stroke symptoms like vomiting, rapid pulse and breathing, confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures, call an ambulance.
Who is responsible for employee heat-related illness?
Every employer has a responsibility to provide workers with a safe place to work. Risking employees’ 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.
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 minimise risks as much as possible and to consult with workers.
Those responsible for buildings and equipment, including designers, manufacturers and suppliers, must ensure buildings and equipment 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’s the legal temperature to leave work?
There are no regulations specifying an exact maximum temperature in the workplace. Whether a temperature is unsafe for workers will be determined based on the circumstances of the worker’s particular workplace. Factors like appropriate rest breaks, availability of water and temperature controls like air-conditioning or fans will be considered.
Resources like the Bureau of Meteorology’s heat stress calculator allow employees and employers to plan their heat management according to the forecast.
What to do if your workplace is unreasonably hot
If heat is a problem in your workplace, raise your concerns with your supervisor, and your WH&S officer.
If no steps are taken to address the issue:
- Gather evidence of the issue by speaking to your fellow workers.
- Request a meeting with your employer to 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.
If you’ve suffered a heat-related injury, you may have a workers compensation claim. Our legal team are experts in workers compensation law and can help you make a claim so you can get your life back on track.
The rules around workers compensation can vary from state to state, so for advice specific to your case get in touch today.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: January 14, 2021.