Keeping Cool

With the mercury rising to the high thirties this week, and the humidex values into the high forties, we thought this would be a good time to write about employer obligations and the heat.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act has very few specific restrictions with respect to the workplace temperature. A health care facility, factory, retail store or office cannot be colder than 18°C, but no maximum temperature is mandated. A construction project “work chamber” can be not hotter than 38°C and a medical compression lock can be no hotter than 27°C. Other than that, no specific maximum values are given in the legislation.

But that doesn’t take the heat off of employers – pun intended. Employers are obligated by the Act to “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.” The Ministry of Labour (and the OHSA tribunal and the courts) interprets that to include an obligation to develop “hot environment policies” and procedures to protect workers in “hot environments due to hot processes or hot weather.”

The Ministry suggests that the ultimate objective is to prevent acclimatized workers’ core body temperatures from rising above 38°C.

Looking at the tribunal decisions and caselaw, it’s difficult to make a universal prescription that will work for all, or most, or even many, workplaces. In some cases heat tolerance assessments have been ordered; in other cases, modifications to the workplace or to the very nature of how the work is done. The diversity of workplaces and occupations is probably the reason that the legislation itself offers such limited guidance.

Our advice is simple; it’s very very hot out – do your best within your resources to ensure that the workplace is cool. Do your best to ensure that your employees are cool, that they are well-hydrated and that they have access to resources that are going to make doing their jobs as easy as possible while the heat wave lasts. Try to limit outdoor exposure and events as much as possible. Provide air conditioning or proper ventilation where appropriate. If it’s not possible to modify the environment, then concessions will have to be made on how work is done. More breaks for water. Less time consecutively spent doing physically exhaustive tasks (like writing a legal blog!). Whatever is reasonable in the circumstances. Listen to the workers and keep cool.

If you have any questions about this, or any other, subject, please feel free to contact me.

Scott R. Young