AUSTRALIAN construction workers are being told it's too hot to work as temperatures skyrocket in the southern states, but authorities says there is no heat law in place that tells employers when it's time to send staff home.

South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania are being hit with extreme temperatures, which has prompted some worksites to close down until a cool change comes.

Today, Adelaide is expected to hit a blistering 45C, close to the city's 80-year record high of 46.1C.

In Port Augusta 49C is predicted and 47C at Port Pirie and Roxby Downs.

"Nowhere is going to escape," Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Jonathan Fischer said, referring to South Australia.

TO STAY OR GO?

The hot weather has led to a surge of complaints to Safe Work, as employees query their rights when they're told they've got to work in the heat.

Safe Work SA told News Corp there is no legislative temperature in place, but employers do have a duty of care to minimise the heat risk for employees.

"We've been getting more heat-related queries and a few complaints against employers," a Safe Work SA spokeswoman said.

She said Safe Work inspectors would be out during the heatwave, making sure employers were keeping the uncomfortable conditions in mind.

Calvary Hospital tradies Mark Rogers and Dallas Martin after knocking off work due to the heat, in Adelaide on Wednesday. Picture: AAP
Calvary Hospital tradies Mark Rogers and Dallas Martin after knocking off work due to the heat, in Adelaide on Wednesday. Picture: AAP

 

While there's no law saying workers can up and leave when it gets too hot for them, recent heat warnings have prompted the state's Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) to remind tradies of its hot weather policy.

The CFMEU SA branch's heat policy instructs employees to stop work and go home when the mercury hits 37C.

Safe Work advises employers to look at rearranging workdays and times so employees can carry out their duties in cooler conditions as well as offering increased rest breaks, plenty of water and ventilation.

In Victoria, where the state is said to be enduring "oppressive" nights thanks to the sweeping heat, the CFMEU branch says 35C is go home time.

"OHS reps should not wait until the temperature reaches 35C to act," a brief from CFMEU Victoria reads.

 

The construction union says 35C-37C+ is too hot to work, but there’s no law in place. Picture: iStock
The construction union says 35C-37C+ is too hot to work, but there’s no law in place. Picture: iStock

 

Citing the current Enterprise Bargaining Agreement it reads: "At temperatures below 35°C workers are to be relocated out of direct sunlight where the work environment creates a serious risk to their health and safety."

Despite no law that spares workers from a hot day, Safe Work Australia says working in the heat can be harmful to employees.

"The human body needs to maintain a body temperature of approximately 37C. If the body has to work too hard to keep cool or starts to overheat a worker begins to suffer from heat-related illness," Safe Work guidelines read.

Heat-related conditions include fainting, heat rash, cramps, exhaustion and heat stroke.

Workers are also at risk of dehydration, burns and accidents due to reduced concentration.

"Workers who are not acclimatised, or are returning to work after an absence of a week or

more, are at a higher risk of experiencing a heat-related illness," Safe Work's guide to heat management reads.

It states that employers must do everything that is reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks employees face while working in the heat.

"We encourage workers to give us a call and in worst case they can file a complaint against their employer," the Safe Work SA spokeswoman said.

Unfortunately the question of whether to stay at work or go comes as Melbourne residents have been told to prepare for a 43C day on Friday.

 

Melbourne residents have been told to prepare for 43C on Friday. Picture: Getty
Melbourne residents have been told to prepare for 43C on Friday. Picture: Getty

 

Tonight the mercury is also expected to sit at 29C there, making for a pretty uncomfortable sleep meaning some workers will be already feeling fatigued when the temperature rises tomorrow.

And further south, Tasmanians are dealing with dozens of fires and fear the heat and wind headed their way in the coming days will be problematic.

With conditions expected to worsen on Friday, authorities have warned residents to be vigilant and prepared for higher threats to property and life.

A total fire ban is in place for all of Tasmania, starting Thursday until Monday.

HOW BAD IS THE HEAT FOR OUR HEALTH?

According to Doctors for the Environment, heatwaves have a serious effect on our health.

"Heatwaves have caused more deaths in Australia over the past 100 years than any other natural event," the group warns, saying that outdoor workers such as farmers, construction and emergency services are especially vulnerable to heat, as well as children, the elderly and pregnant women.

 

Keep cool and carry on: children, pregnant women and the elderly are most at risk of heat-related illnesses. Picture: AAP
Keep cool and carry on: children, pregnant women and the elderly are most at risk of heat-related illnesses. Picture: AAP

 

In February 2009, the heatwave that preceded the Black Saturday fires saw an eight-fold increase in heat-related presentations to Victorian hospital emergency departments.

That same period also saw instances of cardiac arrest almost triple (2.8 increase).

SA Health warns in temperatures hotter than 35C the human body is less capable of staying cool enough to stay healthy, so in extreme heat people are more likely to develop a heat-related illness and become unwell much faster.

For more information about your rights at work during heatwaves contact your nearest Safe Work office.

JUST HOW HOT IS IT?

Thursday January 24

Adelaide 45

Melbourne 36

Brisbane 34

Perth 22

Hobart 27

Sydney 26

Canberra 32

Darwin 32



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