With Christmas time approaching and the thought of fresh prawns and barbeques on a hot summer day no doubt being at the forefront of your mind, we are reminded of our Australian summer and the high temperatures this time of year brings.
It is important at this time of year that employers are not only thinking of Christmas workplace functions, but are also ensuring they are taking steps to eliminate and minimise any heat associated stresses that may arise in the workplace as a result of the Australian summer heat.
Heat not only affects outdoor workers, but also indoor workers. The impact of heat can affect a worker's performance and their health and safety at work. Factors that contribute to heat related illnesses include: temperature, humidity, lack of air movement, clothing, the radiant temperature of your surroundings (such as from the sun or an oven) and physical activity.
If heat in the workplace is not managed, workers could:
- suffer heat stroke, fainting, heat exhaustion, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and heat rashes;
- injure themselves (by fainting or fatigue); and/or
- exacerbate any pre-existing illnesses or conditions they may have.
Employers have a duty of care under the Work, Health and Safety Act 2011
(Qld) to ensure the health and safety of their workers ‘so far as is reasonably practicable
’. Employees also have a duty to ensure the health and safety of themselves and others at work.
So what steps can employers take to eliminate and minimise any risks that the Australian summer heat imposes on the working environment?
Employers ought to:
- conduct risk assessments of the various areas of their workplace to identify any hazards that may arise due to the heat;
- review the personal protective clothing that may be required to be worn by a worker and determine if there is more heat appropriate protective attire (such as that made from cotton) that could be worn that still provides the worker with appropriate protection. If you have workers within an office, ask yourself if it is necessary for jackets, long sleeves and ties to be worn to work. Can these items not be worn when it is hot (or not worn for part of the time) to reduce any heat discomfort to your workers?;
- determine if the workplace has adequate cooling aids in place, such as air-conditioning. Employers also ought to ensure they have procedures in place if (for example) the air-conditioning in the workplace stopped working for a period of time;
- if you have workers performing work outdoors in the heat, determine if work can be scheduled so that tasks can be performed in the cooler parts of the day;
- if tasks in the heat (or near a heat source) must be performed, can any heat associated work be rotated between workers so less time is spent in (or near) the heat by each worker?
- provide adequate or extra rest breaks if work is required to be performed in the heat;
- if you have workers who are performing work outdoors, ensure that you provide cool areas that a worker can go to that is air-conditioned (if practicable) or shaded. Ensure that plenty of cool drinking water is available and discuss with your workers the importance of remaining hydrated throughout the work day;
- implement the use of mechanical aids in the workplace (where possible) to reduce the physical exertion of a worker;
- if workers are required to perform their work near plant and equipment that radiates heat, (for example a furnace or oven), determine if a shield or barrier ought to be in place to minimise the heat output (if practicable);
- provide additional training or instruction to your workers on hydration, the effects of heat, ultraviolet exposure and first aid that is appropriate to the work being performed by your workers;
- if you have workers who are required to travel in a motor vehicle when at work, it would be prudent that the vehicle they are travelling in be equipped with air-conditioning (if reasonably practicable), has extra drinking water, a charged mobile phone for emergencies (such as if the vehicle breaks down) and a first aid kit; and
- monitor your workers for signs of heat associated conditions and take any necessary steps to eliminate or minimise the heat associated condition.
Do not hesitate to contact Clifford Gouldson Lawyers’ workplace team should you have any questions regarding the content of this update or if you require any further information on eliminating or minimising the risks associated with the Australian summer heat in your workplace.