Many Canadians work outdoors or in workplaces without air conditioning. 2016 is shaping up to be the hottest summer on record, creating extreme working conditions for many. Most jurisdictions have specific regulatory provisions regarding thermal conditions or heat exposure, in addition to the general duty in all jurisdictions for employers to take every reasonable precaution in the circumstances for the protection of workers under occupational health and safety provisions. Likewise, there is a general duty for workers to report any hazards and the legislated right to refuse to do work, where the physical condition of the workplace is likely to endanger them.
Work in extreme weather conditions, such as heat or direct sunlight, for extended periods of time creates risk to employees. Employers should ensure that someone is assigned to monitor thermal conditions in the workplace and, if they have employees who are located outside of the workplace, ensure that such employees are empowered to assess the conditions and utilize their judgment to ensure their own safety and the safety of co-workers in such circumstances.
Employers should consult the specific regulatory requirements of the jurisdiction in which they operate, however, prudent employers should have heat exposure plans including, but not limited to, the following procedures:
- assessment of potential hazard by measuring for threshold limits (usually in accordance with ACGIH Standards)
- monitoring employee core body temperatures
- setting maximum heat stress exposure limits considering temperature and humidex factors
- implementing clothing corrections
- implementing work rest cycles
- providing personal protective equipment and other devices including hats, sunscreen, sunshades, etc.
- providing and maintaining a supply of cool water, showers, air conditioned cooling centres
- processes for the removal and treatment of heat stressed workers
- providing education to employees in symptoms of heat stress of precautions that can be taken
Most jurisdictions have published resources and guidelines regarding heat exposure and heat stress, which may provide employers and employees with helpful information and tips about working safely in extreme heat (Alberta, British Columbia, CCOHS, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan).
Look for a sample policy and commentary on heat exposure in a future Human Resources PolicyPro update release.