Hospo Voice

Working in the heat? What you need to know about summer in hospo

December 3, 2020

Get up to speed on WHS in hospitality

Whether you’re running tables in the scorching sun or working with steaming appliances in the kitchen, you’re probably used to working in the heat. But did you know that you have certain rights when you’re working in hot conditions? Here are our tips to surviving summer in hospo.

The most important thing is it’s the employer’s responsibility to make the workplace safe for everyone. There are no exceptions.

Tim Gunstone – United Workers Union Health and Safety expert

What are your rights?

In some workplaces like construction sites, you’re allowed to stop work when it gets to a certain temperature. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case in hospitality. In fact, when the weather gets warmer it’s often busier as more people come out and enjoy the sun (and that tantalisingly cool beverage you’ve just served them). 

Although there isn’t any temperature that automatically means you can stop work, there are rules that your employers need to abide by. According to United Workers Union (UWU) Health and Safety expert Tim Gunstone (Hospo Voice is the hospitality arm of UWU), your employers have to make sure the workplace is safe for everyone. 

“The most important thing is it’s the employer’s responsibility to make the workplace safe for everyone. There are no exceptions. Coronavirus isn’t an exception, the weather isn’t an exception, having casual workers isn’t an exception. The law says the employer must control all risks for all people in the workplace.”

As an employee, it’s your responsibility to have the knowledge of what is and isn’t safe. It’s the employer’s responsibility to find the solution and fix it.

What are the safety risks of working in hot conditions?

In summer, there are a few risks you need to be aware of when you’re working in heat. First, you need to be very mindful of sun exposure when you’re working outdoors. Not only can exposure to sun increase your core temperature, but it can lead to sunburn and more serious long-term consequences. 

Second, you need to be mindful of heat exposure. You need to make sure you’re working in the ‘comfort zone’ which is around 20 – 27˚C. When the temperature is above this, you’re more likely to be less efficient, more irritable and have reduced concentration. At really high temperatures, you’re at risk of heat illness such as heat stroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion.

So what can we do to reduce our risk?

It’s true that extreme heat can be hard to control in places like kitchens, According to Tim, that isn’t an excuse not to do anything at all.
“Employers might say it’s too hard and not do it. It’s not what is supposed to happen, and it’s up to us to point out that everything that creates a risk needs to be controlled.”

Here are some things that could reduce your exposure to excess heat in summer. 

What should you do if you see a heat risk and nothing is being done?

So, you’re stuck in a corner of the café sweating over your steam wand, and there isn’t a fan in sight? Tim says there are things you can do to make sure your workplace is safer. 

The first thing you need to do is get your fellow workers on side. If you collectivise your complaint, you are much more likely to see some change. 

Your next step is to contact us at Hospo Voice. We can help you put together a complaint and advise you how to take it to the Work Safe organisation in your state. 

Finally, you need to know that you have the right to stop work on paid time if there’s a serious and imminent risk to health and safety. The worst-case scenario is that the safety inspector visits and denies there is a risk. But it’s much less likely that will happen if you and your colleagues band together. 

According to Tim: “There’s quite a significant amount of power available to workers if we can collectively wrangle together.”

Want to know more about your WHS in hospitality rights? Check out our Mobilise app and ask the experts.

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