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Articles and legal news from the Atkinson Vinden Team.

Too Hot to Handle!! Work, Health & Safety

Employment Law

Heat-related injuries can be quite common and may result in fatalities or permanent injuries particularly in work duties that require attention, coordination and immediate response skills.

Working in heat is a hazard that can result in severe health problems for many workers – whether they work indoors or outdoors.

If the body must work too hard to say, keep cool it starts to overheat and a worker begins to suffer from heat-related illness.

According to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation:

  • extreme heat events are occurring in Australia more often and for longer periods, which is expected to continue with greater intensity in the future; and
  • there are also increased extremes of temperature, meaning we are experiencing more heat days and fewer cool days.

This means that workers are now exposed to hotter working environments for longer periods and these are more frequent, longer heatwaves may introduce new hazards as well as affect employers’ safety control options available.

According to SafeWork Australia’s most recent Code of Practice, the ideal temperature for “sedentary work is between 20o and 26o, depending on the time of the year and clothing worn” and according to SafeWork VIC, it states that “workers will stop work and leave site when the temperature reaches 37.5o” measured at the nearest weather station to the work site.

MANAGING HAZARDS AND RISKS

To manage risks and hazards in the workplace the employer and/or Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) has a legal obligation to, so far as reasonably practicable:

  1. identify hazards in the workplace;
  2. assess the risk those hazards create; and
  3. then eliminate or minimise them as much as possible.

If your business manages control fixtures, fittings or plants (not flowers) you must ensure that they do not put workers or other people at the workplace at risk of injury.

PENALTIES

All the states and territories apart from Victoria and Western Australia, have all adopted the penalty provisions set out in the national Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth) and Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 (Cth). Accordingly, the penalties have been categorised as follows:

  • this is the most serious category, where an individual PCBU recklessly exposes a person to the risk of death or serious injury, he/she could be fined a maximum of $600,000 and/or 5 years in jail. The maximum penalty for a corporation is $3 million.
  • where the individual PCBU exposes a person to the risk of death or serious injury (except without the element of recklessness), he/she could be fined a maximum of $300,000 and a corporation a max of $1.5 million.
  • where the individual PCBU failed to comply with a health and safety duty, he/she could be fined a maximum of $100,000 and a corporation a max of $500,000.

Victoria and Western Australia, on the other hand, have categorised their levels of breaches and penalties differently. For example:

  • fines for breaching VIC safety legislation are calculated by way of penalty units currently set at 1 : $161.19. Individual PCBUs who recklessly endanger persons at the workplace could be held liable for a maximum of $290,142 and corporations for approximately $3.2 million; and
  • in terms of WA safety legislation, individual PCBUs can look at a maximum penalty of $680,000 and 5 years in jail while corporations could face a fine of $3.5 million.

As an employer, you need to identify hazards, assess risks and take steps to avoid the possibility of being fined.

LESSON FOR EMPLOYERS

The person with management or control of a workplace has a legal duty to make sure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that there are no health or safety risks to anyone working in the workplace (this includes when people are entering or exiting the workplace on say a visitor basis). It generally does not include residences, unless the residence is occupied for the purposes of conducting a business.

Work involving hot (or cold) temperatures:

  1. can lead to a range of symptoms from physical discomfort through to life threatening conditions;
  2. air temperatures that are too high (or too low) can contribute to fatigue and heat (or cold) related illnesses;
  3. if it is not possible to eliminate the exposure to the temperature, then the risk of i.e. heat-related illness or hypothermia must be minimised, where reasonably practicable.

When determining what is reasonably practicable, you need to consider:

  1. the likelihood of the hazard or risk occurring;
  2. the degree of harm that might result from the hazard or risk;
  3. what you know or reasonably ought to know about the hazard or the risk and the ways of eliminating or minimising the hazard or risk;
  4. the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk; and
  5. after assessing the risk, whether the costs associated to minimise the risk are grossly disproportionate to the risk.

With Australia’s current Summer temperatures reaching record highs, now is a good time to review your company’s safety policies/procedures for working in hot conditions and taking steps to ensure your workers and other people at your workplace are safe.

If you require assistance in this regard or it feels like things are getting “too hot to handle” contact the employment law team at AV Lawyers on 02 9411-4466 or by email at email@avlawyers.com.au.