What are my rights when working in heat?

Casey asks: I’m working at a kitchen that is non-ventilated and is already reaching 33 degrees. I’m worried about how I will be in summer.

I was throwing up at work dizzy and nearly fainted today. I have complained to my boss over 10 times and nothing has been done. What do I need to do in order for my work environment to be better?

Your question is a timely one especially with summer just around the corner.

Working in heat can cause very real health and safety problems and is something to be taken very seriously. Among the problems it can cause are:

•   An increased risk of injury through fatigue, reduced concentration (which is something you don’t want to be happening when using sharp knives, direct flame and coping in what is already a high pressure environment), fainting and slipperiness of sweaty palms.
•   Worsening of existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions and asthma.
•   Heat illness such as heat rashes, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and at worst heat stroke which can result in collapse, loss of consciousness, convulsions and possibly death.

So your boss brushing you off is putting you all at risk and is a clear indication that they aren’t taking their duty of care towards their staff seriously.

Are any of you union members? If so you need to approach your delegate or organiser ASAP. If you’re not (and I’ll assume you aren’t) then the best thing you can all do is join one immediately. Give us a call on 1300 486 466 and the Australian Unions team will help you find out the correct union for you all to join.

Meanwhile there are steps you can take yourselves to get some changes happening.

If any of you do become ill from the heat or injure yourself, make sure you put it in the incident book. Every workplace is required to have such a log which details when people hurt themselves, what exactly happened, any first aid that was provided etc. Have you thought of calling the WorkSafe office in your state?

You can speak to them about the hazards you’re all facing on a daily basis and ask for an inspector to be sent out.

Your strength is in acting collectively. It can be quite intimidating going to a boss and complaining about something individually but if you’re all speaking and acting together not only is there security in numbers but your voice is louder.

Remember although there are some things which go hand in hand with working in a kitchen – such as the noise, the pace and the pressure; your employer needs to do everything possible to make sure you are all kept as safe as possible.

In fact the ACTU has produced a set of guidelines for working in heat and offers some very practical solutions to how risks can be reduced and minimised.

If you give the Australian Unions team a call on 1300 486 466 they’ll be able to send you out a copy.

Even more importantly they can help you and your colleagues take the first step to making sure you all have the protection of being union members – as the working conditions in your kitchen as described in your question sound like a recipe for disaster (no dreadful pun intended.) I hope we speak to you soon.

Date Published: 20/10/2014 Category: Opinion Workers rights

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