The Workplace

If you can’t stand the heat…

heatThis summer has seen a lot of us struggling with the unusually hot temperatures. Even for summer things have been intense, with parts of the country used to the mid-20s finding themselves in the low-30s for days at a time.

While many people were enjoying the weather while still on leave – at the beach, in the swimming pool or at least under the shade of a tree – a lot of us were back at work, in the office, on the ward or outside in the full heat of the sun.

The ozone layer might be healing but there’s still plenty of danger when the weather is like it has been: sunburn, dehydration, overheating and more. It’s really important that we look after ourselves, and each other, to keep everyone safe.

In countries that are used to regular 30+ degree temperatures, they have systems set up to cope (and people are more used to it). If you travel to Queensland, the most common type of home is specifically built to allow minimal sun and maximum air flow inside at all times – by contrast, the air flow in New Zealand homes is more likely to come from a lack of insultation and poor maintenance.

Our workplaces are also not set up for heat – in many public service office buildings, the aircon usually somehow makes different parts of the same floor far too hot and far too cold, while other jobs (like those in kitchens or roles that require the wearing of significant amounts of protective clothing) are likely to be even hotter than the outside temperature.

There’s a reason that the Health and Safety at Work Act has provisions allowing individual workers to cease unsafe work, and for elected health and safety representatives to direct their colleagues to cease work, without having to go through a lengthy formal process like we do for other types of work stoppage like a strike.

Unite Union members at KFC in Thames used these provisions in late January, walking off the job under the health & safety law due to significant issues arising from the heat in their kitchen. This collective response shows the importance of sticking together and addressing issues alongside our workmates, not just on our own.

Plenty of other workplaces have addressed the heat in other ways, such as demanding that bosses purchase fans, install proper air conditioning, or approve extra paid breaks in a cooler area to ensure that people aren’t putting their health at risk just to do their jobs.

New Zealand’s hottest ever day was February 7, 1973. Rangiora, north of Christchurch, registered 42.4 degrees, and other parts of Canterbury and Marlborough also rose above the 40-degree mark.
Staff walkouts due to the heat happened at three freezing works and a glass plant in the morning, and by lunchtime many schools and offices had given up for the day. The tar seal melted on many roads, and railway lines buckled.

We’re now heading to autumn and the hottest days are likely gone, but remember: look after yourself, and your colleagues. If you think it’s too hot at work, talk with each other, and then with your boss. Your safety is always the most important thing.

By Asher Wilson-Goldman