As the weather heats up across Australia, employers may be thinking about the possible adverse effects of heat on employees.

While the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (the Act) does not specifically address the question of working in heat, some Modern Awards and Enterprise Agreements do.

For example, the Building and Construction General On-Site Award 2010 provides in circumstances of “extreme high temperature” work may be called off for employees in the building and construction sector.  In making such a decision the test to apply is whether it is unreasonable or unsafe for employees to continue work in those conditions. That Award sets out a procedure for determining whether work should stop. That process involves the employer conferring with employees to determine whether the “extreme high temperatures” make it unsafe for the employees to continue to work.  In some circumstances under this particular Award, employees will be paid the ordinary hourly rate for ordinary hours even when work has been called off due to extreme heat.

It is important to read the detail of the terms in the applicable industrial instrument as they are all unique.  Some Modern Awards such as the Plumbing and Fire Sprinklers Award 2010 may allow for employees to be transferred to another site that is not affected by inclement weather if they can reasonably be redeployed (e.g. returning to air-conditioned base) before a decision is made to send employees home.

For employees not covered by an Award or Enterprise Agreement, employers need to exercise due diligence and ask whether employee safety is jeopardised by working in extreme heat conditions.  As with all safety issues, a proper risk assessment should be undertaken with a view to eliminating, or if that is not possible, then appropriately managing the risk.

A risk management strategy for working in heat might include:

  • Ensuring an ample supply of good quality sunscreen is available to employees;
  • Ensuring employees dress appropriately, including wearing long sleeves and pants, a hat and sunglasses;
  • Making sure all employees keep themselves well hydrated;
  • Ensuring supervisors keep a close eye on employees for anyone who is not be coping well with the heat and;
  • Have an appropriate exit strategy ready for employees who may need to be removed from heat conditions if they are in discomfort.

It certainly looks like it will be a long hot summer for Australia. If you aren’t lucky enough to be at the beach or in air-conditioning – work safely.

 

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