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Issue #1624      January 29, 2014

Keeping your cool in workplace heat

The hot weather hitting southern Australia has caused the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ union (AMWU) to remind members that employers have an obligation to provide a safe workplace with sufficient protections from the heat.

The union’s Victorian branch issued a Heat Bulletin which emphases the need for workplaces to have access to cool drinks, proper ventilation to moderate high temperatures, an air-conditioned first-aid room and planned breaks as the mercury rises into the high 30s and above.

AMWU Victorian branch Health and Safety Officer Frank Fairley said the chances of accidents happening increased rapidly as the temperature rose, with risk of wavering concentration and discomfort wearing safety equipment.

Victorian OH&S law does not specify temperatures, but does require that workers must not be exposed to hazards and that atmospheric quality must be maintained.

“Heat policy should have already been negotiated in Health Agreements but even at workplaces without these there are basic guidelines to ensure no one suffers from dehydration or life-threatening heat stroke,” he said.

Mr Fairley said a risk assessment should have been done in each area where members work, with the temperature taken in the hottest place.

Rest breaks should be taken every hour in a cooled area, preferably air conditioned, where cool drinks are available.

Victorian branch guidelines are for a 10-minute hourly break in temperatures 30-32C degrees, a 15-minute hourly break from 32-35C degrees, 30 minutes of every hour 35-38C degrees. When the temperature goes above 38 degrees work should cease until the temperature falls or employees should go home on full pay.

“These are guidelines and in some cases employees may demand the right to cease work before temperatures hit 38C degrees or the old 100 Fahrenheit,” Mr Fairly said.

“Employers could also look to moderate heat by installing extra insulation around heat sources, closing down some machines or doing the harder physical work in the cooler part of the day.

“It is up to OH&S delegates to keep a close eye on conditions as the temperatures climb towards 40 degrees and if any member feels concerned over the heat they should immediately see their delegate.”

The AMWU strongly recommends that any workplace without a Health Agreement work with their organiser to make it a priority.

Next article – Undermining democratic rights

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