After attending a TUC webinar with Unite reps, Keith gives his thoughts on the webinar and some of the important issues raised around worker safety in extreme temperatures and the steps employers and Unite reps can take to affect positive change.
With the Met Office recently issuing “extreme heat warnings” for parts of the UK, it is increasingly important that Unite reps are aware of the latest information to support members as workplaces face the realities of a changing climate.
Staff exposed to extreme temperatures could suffer from health problems, be less productive as they struggle to cope, and in rare, severe cases even die.
Current legislation, including the Workplace Regulations Act 1992, could be viewed as inadequate when it comes to working in extreme temperatures given the threat of global warming and increased probability of heatwaves. There is no current stipulation for a maximum temperature limit. Unions are campaigning for a change in legislation that would require employers to take steps to reduce temperatures if they exceed 24°C and provide sun protection, water or other appropriate provision for workers. Moreover, there is also a call to introduce an absolute maximum indoor temperature of 30°C for those doing strenuous jobs.
Unite has been leading the way in embedding environmental issues. Climate change and the need for just transition are included in reps training. This is available to Unite Environment Reps, Unite Health and Safety (H&S) Reps and Unite Workplace Reps.
In July 2022 the TUC launched its very useful “Too Hot, Too Cold” interactive guide, for reps and members exploring the issues around extreme workplace temperatures.
As part of the Unite Health & Safety Reps Part 1 B course, reps logged into a TUC webinar titled Protecting Workers from Extreme Temperatures. Reps also developed group presentations about a particular workplace issue. Heat at work was a popular choice. Indeed many reps work in settings where heat at work is of particular concern - outdoors in construction, dockyards, or transport, or indoors in engineering and manufacturing.
The webinar provided a very useful overview of the issues involved, with Shelly Asquith, Health, Safety & Wellbeing Officer at the TUC highlighting the fact that there is currently no maximum temperature for workplaces.
The webinar also included contributions from union officers from the Bakers Food and Allied Workers and the National Education Union giving practical examples of the impact extreme heat is starting to have on their members, which started a lively and practical debate amongst the group of Unite H&S Reps about the situations in their own workplaces.
There are a number of ways that H&S Reps can promote a cooler working environment. This can be as simple as taking a thermometer on safety inspections to negotiating with employers for flexible working with more breaks or changes to work patterns along with the extra provision of appropriate PPE.
Employers may be unwilling to make changes, fearing that it will entail extra costs buying new equipment and PPE, but ultimately they have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment to all staff under health and safety law.
Unite H&S Reps can be ideally positioned to support the union's growing number of Environment Reps in exploring ways to climate-proof workplaces, help with heat-related risk assessments and action plans in addition to raising the issues around the need to adapt working practices at health and safety committees.
Unite reps and members should highlight any concerns about extreme workplace temperatures with their branch so these concerns can be raised with employers.
Unite is training new Environment Reps all the time, and if your workplace doesn’t yet have one in post go to the Learn With Unite site to find out more, then contact your Regional Education Team for more details about future courses in your area.
Just remember unions are cool, so don’t sweat in silence.