It’s a scorcher: What businesses need to know about working in extreme heat


It’s pretty warm at the moment.

In fact, some parts of the country are unbearably hot. The area around SmartCompany’s Melbourne office included.

It’s so hot, in fact, the Bureau of Meteorology has brought out its brown textas for many parts of the country. That’s right, brown.

Records are being broken across the country, and without going into why it’s so damn hot at the moment, there are some important things businesses need to know about the heat.

For example, under many modern awards, employees are required to be sent home when the mercury rises too far.

It’s called inclement weather, and if businesses aren’t complying with the rules they could land themselves in hot water (ha).

Inclement weather 

There are inclement weather clauses in the Building and Construction Award, Electrical Award and Plumbing Award.

This clause stipulates employees or their representatives should confer with employers within a reasonable time (no longer than an hour) about whether the temperature is extremely hot (or cold).

There’s no set threshold in the Awards, but it is important to remember all employees must continue to be paid when sent home because of extreme heat.

The maximum amount that can be paid is 32 hours over a four-week period.

There are steps to take before sending workers home though. Where work can be done in an area not affected by weather, such as inside, workers can be asked to continue.

Enterprise agreements often have their own inclement weather clauses, so breaking those bad boys out for a quick skeez might be worth it.

OH&S obligations 

All employers have an obligation to provide workers with a safe place to work without risks to health and safety.

If it’s really hot, say 45°, worker health is at risk, which could leave employers liable for WorkCover claims or an OH&S investigation.

There are various state-specific guidelines for working in the heat provided by government-funded OH&S bodies.

Workplace lawyer Peter Vitale says it’s wise to follow that advice.

“Employers can assume that if they’re in breach of WorkSafe advice then, particularly in serious cases, they might look at whether an offence has occurred,” he tells SmartCompany.

Vitale advises employers to consider some common-sense measures to help workers deal with the heat and to be vigilant about sending people home if it gets too hot.

“Employers need to acknowledge their responsibilities. The reality is it’s not a lot of days of the year where these things come into play,” he says.

“Where it’s not practical to provide air conditioning you should provide plenty of cool drinking water.

“Provide extra short breaks, particularly with physical work.”

WorkSafe Australia advises employers to consider air temperature, air flow, humidity and radiant heat sources when determining whether workplace heat risks.

It also advises that for workers who are training or are less experienced operating equipment that could be dangerous, heat can exacerbate risks.

Here are some additional links to each of the state-based OH&S organisations and their advice on working in heat.

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