Sweatshop workplaces in summer a health worry
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