29 January 2019
There are no legal limits as to what temperatures workers can safely work in. But your employers has a duty of care to provide a safe environment.
You also have rights with respect to this.
- If workers have reasonable grounds, they can refuse unsafe work but need to be available for other work.
- If you think you’re working conditions are unsafe, say so – this is best done collectively.
- Contact your union if you need help: we can support you in raising the issue with your employer.
We can also advocate for solutions such as the following:
- Air conditioning – people can hire air-conditioning units. If this is not practical, ask for a unit to be placed in a room, such as the cafeteria or staff-room, so people can go there and cool off.
- Request extra cooling off breaks, in the airconditioned room – this has worked well in the past in hospital kitchens and in some factories.
- There is work-gear, such as cooling vests, which are chilled in a fridge, and used to cool the body. Ask your boss about these. Clothing like heavy cotton overalls traps heat. Light cotton is good.
- Ask for water fountains on-site: if that’s not possible, make sure you drink plenty of water.
- Many people work outdoors – you could ask the boss to consider a change of hours so people work when it’s cooler.
- People should not do heavy work in high temperatures: ask you boss if you can defer this work until the weather cools down again.
- Remember hats, sunscreen and light protective clothing.
- Longer-term, bargain for acceptable heating and cooling systems in your workplace.