A University of Technology Sydney study released today has revealed how little recourse workers have when raising safety issues linked to heat.
Around 800 workers across industries such as home care, manufacturing, education, agriculture, health, emergency services, hospitality, and logistics contributed to the High Heat and Climate Change at Work report by the UTS Climate Justice Research Centre.
Of that cross-section, many had little or no access to cooling control measures at work and around one-fifth reported being unable to work because of high heat.
United Workers Union Allied Director Godfrey Moase said the workers’ responses outlined in the report were aligned with what workers had been telling the union about the pressure of working in higher temperatures.
“Many of the workers United Workers Union represent are on the frontline of feeling high heats – in hot factories without air conditioning, in commercial kitchens, picking fruit and maintaining utilities outdoors but also in schools without air conditioning in demountable classrooms, or in the homes of those we care for who can’t afford to run electrical appliances,” Moase said.
“Disturbingly, many of these workers felt they had no ability to take action when their safety was compromised as a result of high heat. That’s why the union will definitely be taking heed of the recommendations outlined in the report which, if enacted, will empower and protect workers who undertake measures to protect the health and safety of themselves and their colleagues.”
Report co-author Dr Elizabeth Humphrys said millions of Australian workers were contending with workplace heat to a degree that is unhealthy and unsafe.
“Many workers we spoke with work in environments where they are exposed to the weather, or do not have access to proper ventilation or cooling controls. We know that many workers are also having to work at rates of production which are frankly incompatible with some of the most basic heat management strategies which humans typically use to cool themselves, such as slowing down, having rests and taking breaks to rehydrate,” Humphrys said.
“This already difficult situation is becoming tougher as heatwaves increase in intensity, duration and frequency due to climate change.
“Climate change and high heat is a growing problem for industry as well, and the International Labour Organisation says the impact on labour productivity will get significantly worse in the next few decades.”
The report is being launched at the Australian Council of Trade Unions Climate Safety at Work Summit later today.
The report and an executive summary are available from the United Workers Union at https://unitedworkers.org.au/high-heat-at-work-report.
The research project was jointly funded by UTS and UWU, and conducted independently by UTS researchers in the Climate Justice Research Centre.