Depending on the State in which you are located, you may have been affected by periods of extreme heat that has hit various regions over the past few weeks. As part of your obligations to provide a safe working environment, during periods of extreme heat, precautions need to be taken to prevent heat stress and fatigue for employees.
While there is no set temperature level set out in legislation which defines ‘extreme heat’, some Modern Awards and/or agreements will set out specific provisions regarding working during periods of inclement weather, including specifying what ‘inclement weather’ includes and what employees and employers are required to do when inclement weather occurs.
In the absence of any specific provisions relating to what constitutes ‘extreme heat’, the Building Industry Code, which provides that the temperature where hot weather comes into play is 36 degrees, can be used as a general guide.
During periods of inclement weather, it may be deemed unsafe or unreasonable for an employee to continue to perform their duties. The extent to which an employee will be entitled to be paid for periods during which they are unable to be usefully employed due to environmental factors outside the employer’s control; is subject to the applicable modern award, enterprise agreement or contract of employment.
In the absence of inclement weather provisions in an applicable modern award or enterprise agreement, an employer may:
Offer other alternative working options to affected employees, subject to the employee’s agreement, such as:
- Providing suitable, alternative duties that can be performed by the employee during periods of extreme weather within the scope of their contracted duties.
- Accessing accrued paid leave entitlements.
- Taking time off in lieu of overtime worked.
- Stand down the employee until such time that they can be usefully reemployed.
The provisions of the Fair Work Act set out the circumstances in which an employee may be stood down without pay by their employer. While there is no specific reference to circumstances in relation to inclement weather preventing work from being performed, the employer must establish that an employee cannot be usefully employed due to a stoppage of work for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible. In such circumstances, sending employees home because of extreme heat events would be justifiable on the grounds that working in such conditions could pose a serious risk to the employees’ health and safety.
A period of stand-down without pay counts as service for the purposes of the Fair Work Act.
In order to ensure that you have clear, documented procedures in place for how to manage situations where it is not safe to work because of extreme weather conditions, such as heat, cold, wind or rain, it is recommended that an Inclement Weather policy be implemented.
A workplace policy can refer to the flexible work arrangements provided for under an applicable award or, in the case of award/agreement free employees, the availability of options such as annual leave, or moving to another work location which is unaffected by the extreme weather (where practicable).
The policy could also define the meaning of what constitutes ‘extreme heat’ or ‘extreme cold’ for the purposes of enacting the procedures, which would need to be considered in conjunction with the company’s workplace health and safety policy.
Maintaining Employee Safety During Periods of Hot Weather
Where employees are required to perform their duties outdoors, during periods of hot weather, it is essential that measures be implemented to reduce any potential risk to the health and safety. The risk of heat exposure will not necessarily differ if employees are working in direct sunlight or shade, as there are a number of factors which can determine the exposure to heat including:
-Air movement or wind speed;
In order to reduce an employee’s exposure to heat exposure, UV radiation and to prevent fatigue, the following list shows some of the actions can be taken to reduce workers’ exposure to heat, UV radiation and to prevent fatigue:
- Provide and maintain equipment and shelter to protect workers from the sun;
- Provide sun safety information, instruction, training and supervision;
- Rotate tasks to lessen exposure to the sun as well as mental and physical fatigue;
- Schedule work at cooler times of the day;
- Use rest periods in addition to scheduled meal breaks;
- Provide water and encourage workers to stay hydrated;
- Provide personal protective equipment such as:
- clothing with UPF 50+ rating
- loose shirts with long sleeves, collars, and long pants
- broad spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30+)
- sunglasses that meet Australian Standards for UV protection
- Use plant, machinery and equipment to eliminate or reduce the excessive physical demands of the job.