Marilyn Monroe famously sang:
A tropical heat wave
The temperature is rising
It isn’t surprising……. “
Whilst the north of the globe swelters in the heat we in the south flood and freeze.
So, does the weather have any relevance to workplaces and if so, what?
Yes, it does. An employer has an obligation to provide a “healthy safe “work environment.
Working in extreme temperatures may be unsafe.
As a PCBU (owner of a business) employers have an obligation to manage rises and falls in temperatures to ensure that working conditions are safe to work in so that they do not become hazardous and affect employees’ health.
An employer must provide a working environment that is “reasonably practicable” safe.
So, what is “reasonable”?
As always it will depend on the circumstances and be a matter of fact and degree.
There is no legal guideline and what will be reasonable in one circumstance may be unreasonable in another. The lack of maximum guidelines is unhelpful. There are no legal limits to monitor extremes in New Zealand. It all comes down to what is “safe”. “Safe” is a reasonable temperature.
In the UK studies have shown that people work best between 16 and 24 degrees
However safe is no “optimum” or being “comfortable”, what is “safe” is relative to health and safety considerations.
Too hot or too cold people can suffer or catch an illness.
Too hot and people can suffer dizziness and nausea. Over 41 degrees can cause dehydration, confusion, and delirium. A rise in blood temperatures can cause stroke, organ damage or possible death.
Cold brings dampness, a proliferation of virus spread, colds, numbness etc.
But “safe” may also be measured against individual health conditions. For example, blood pressure, and asthma issues may be aggravated by extreme heat. Age and weight may also have a bearing.
So just like healthy homes workplaces need to be healthy.
Health and safety audits ought to factor in the weather and adjust accordingly.
So rug up New Zealand as we weather the storm and be prepared for whatever mother nature throws at us.
Whilst the law provides no guidelines employment agreements or policies should include guidelines and definitions as to what is a “reasonable” working environment in extreme weather situations and what the respective entitlements and obligations are to avoid disputes and incidents.