Impacts of Climate Change on our Workplaces

August 11th, 2022 - Barbara Buckett

Marilyn Monroe famously sang:

“We are having a heat wave 
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.

Note: BuckettLaw takes no responsibility for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of our articles. Any views expressed or comments made in an article are the writers option only. The content in our articles does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal or expert advice you should obtain specific advice about your case or matter from a professional. For legal advice based on your individual situation please contact us to speak with one of our expert lawyers.

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Barbara Buckett

Barbara Buckett is a highly experienced senior employment lawyer with over 35 years of practice in New Zealand. She provides expert advice on all areas of employment law and has a proven track record of delivering excellent results for clients. Barbara has extensive experience in resolving workplace issues and is an experienced litigator. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, working out, and fine wine and dining with friends.

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