Australians will generally appreciate the fact that it gets hot in summer. Apologies for stating the bleeding obvious. Therefore, it’s pertinent to ask the question: If it’s too hot outside, what can employers do?
Who is responsible for workplace health and safety?
Before answering the all important question, we should look to who is responsible for workplace health and safety. Using s 19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) (WHS Act) as our guide, the primary duty of care for managing workplace health and safety risks rests with anyone conducting a business or undertaking, therefore, such an entity must ensure so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of:
- employees engaged, or caused to be engaged with the employer; and
- employees whose activities in carrying out the work are influenced or directed by the employer.
Employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of employees is not put at risk from any work carried out. So, what does ‘reasonably practicable’ mean? Turning to s 19(3) of the WHS Act, reasonably practicable can entail the following:
“(a) the provision and maintenance of a work environment without risks to health and safety, and
(b) the provision and maintenance of safe plant and structures, and
(c) the provision and maintenance of safe systems of work, and
(d) the safe use, handling, and storage of plant, structures and substances, and
(e) the provision of adequate facilities for the welfare at work of workers in carrying out work for the business or undertaking, including ensuring access to those facilities, and
(f) the provision of any information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking, and
(g) that the health of workers and the conditions at the workplace are monitored for the purpose of preventing illness or injury of workers arising from the conduct of the business or undertaking.
(a) a worker occupies accommodation that is owned by or under the management or control of the person conducting the business or undertaking, and
(b) the occupancy is necessary for the purposes of the worker’s engagement because other accommodation is not reasonably available,
the person conducting the business or undertaking must, so far as is reasonably practicable, maintain the premises so that the worker occupying the premises is not exposed to risks to health and safety.”
Under both the WHS Act and the Work Health and Safety Regulations (the WHS Regulations), a Code of Practice is in place (the Code) and applies to any type of work and place of employment covered by the WHS Act.
The Code covers:
- the physical work environment such as the workspace, lighting and ventilation;
- facilities used by employees such as toilets, drinking water, washing and dining areas, change rooms, lockers and sheltered areas;
- remote and isolated work;
- emergency plans.
What should employers do if it’s too hot (or cold)?
The Code makes a distinction between conditions that threaten the health and safety of employees, as opposed to an employee merely feeling discomfort due to the conditions. Therefore, some of the considerations that may be taken into account can include personal and environmental factors, as well as the risk to the health of an employee who is working in very hot or cold conditions.
If the work environment is too hot, and there is no possibility of eliminating exposure to extreme heat, the Code suggests some of the following minimising actions that can be undertaken, so far as is reasonable practicable, and can include:
- using fans;
- installing air-conditioners or evaporative coolers;
- isolating workers from indoor heat sources, for example by insulating plant, pipes and walls;
- removing heated air or steam from hot processes using local exhaust ventilation ;
- using mechanical aids to assist in carrying out manual tasks;
- alter work schedules so that work may be performed at a cooler time period.
The Code also suggests a number of further measures that may be considered that may also be effective, and includes:
- slowing down the pace of work if possible;
- providing cool drinking water;
- providing a cool, well-ventilated area where workers are able to take rest breaks ;
- providing opportunities for workers who are not used to working in hot conditions to acclimatise, such as job rotation and regular rest breaks;
- ensuring light clothing is worn.
If you happen to find yourself outside in the extreme temperatures, please take care and stay hydrated.