Sweat­shop work­places in sum­mer a health worry

Sunday Star-Times - - News - Ja­nine Rankin

As of­fices heat up thanks to the sum­mer swel­ter, unions are plan­ning on ask­ing for the law to stip­u­late what con­sti­tutes ‘‘com­fort’’ in the work­place.

New Zealand Coun­cil of Trade Unions health and safety pol­icy an­a­lyst John Crocker says work­ers should com­plain about the tem­per­a­ture if they are un­com­fort­able, and shouldn’t wait un­til they are too cold, too hot, or un­well.

WorkSafe still refers to some 1992 Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health guide­lines about how hot is too hot, but it rec­om­mends work­place tem­per­a­tures be be­tween 19 and 24 de­grees Cel­sius in sum­mer, and 18C-22C in win­ter. Crocker said cur­rent health and safety laws were more broad and less spe­cific than pre­vi­ously on em­ploy­ers’ re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to pro­vide a suit­able and suf­fi­cient work­ing en­vi­ron­ment. The unions want to see what con­sti­tutes ‘‘com­fort’’ spelled out more specif­i­cally when the law is reviewed in 2020.

‘‘The new law is bet­ter over­all, but it used to be clearer.’’

It fol­lows UK unions’ call for a max­i­mum work­place tem­per­a­ture of 30 de­grees for non-man­ual work, and 27 de­grees for man­ual work.

A WorkSafe spokes­woman said em­ploy­ers had a le­gal obli­ga­tion to iden­tify risks in the work­place and mit­i­gate them. That in­cluded con­sid­er­ing the ef­fects of heat and cold, which was about more than just a tem­per­a­ture.

Hu­mid­ity, heat emit­ted from any­thing hot, air move­ment, and ac­tiv­ity lev­els all af­fected how peo­ple could ex­pe­ri­ence tem­per­a­ture dif­fer­ently.

Crocker said staff com­plaints should be taken se­ri­ously, par­tic­u­larly when com­fort lev­els in­flu­enced work­ers’ de­ci­sions about work­flow.

‘‘It’s about pro­duc­tiv­ity. If that drops be­cause peo­ple are un­com­fort­able, it’s short-sighted not to deal with it.’’

He said that even if a build­ing’s tem­per­a­ture dial seemed to be set at the right level, there would be vari­a­tions in the ac­tual tem­per­a­ture that needed to be dealt with.

Younger peo­ple tended to be less sen­si­tive to the cold than older work­ers. And some peo­ple had health is­sues that made them more sen­si­tive.

Staff should be able to ad­just their own com­fort by putting on one more layer of clothing, or tak­ing it off. ‘‘If it’s any more than that, you need to be look­ing for changes in the en­vi­ron­ment.’’

‘‘It’s about pro­duc­tiv­ity. If that drops be­cause peo­ple are un­com­fort­able, it’s short-sighted not to deal with it.’’ John Crocker, Coun­cil of Trade Unions

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