The heat is on to keep workers cool and productive

Richard Mahoney—My View
The heat is on to keep workers cool and productive

Summer is not even here yet, and already people are complaining about the heat. We have become a spoiled lot, expecting to be comfortable all the time, assuming that every building and vehicle will be equipped with air conditioning. Yes, we do indeed have many First World problems.

But, in defence of the whiners, these are not your grandparents’ heat waves. Once upon a time, when Earth was a lot greener and cooler, hot and muggy days did not arrive before mid-summer. And the heat was not as intense as it is nowadays. Last year was the hottest on record.

There is a growing movement to recognize in legislation the dangers of excessive heat.

The “dog days” of the season were traditionally the 40 days between July 3 and August 11. But now scorching days in May are quite common. For example, May 22, only a few days after the gardens were put in, the thermometer was nudging over 30 degrees. Air conditioners were going full tilt in homes, offices and cars.

Obviously, everybody handles the close weather differently.

For the many who are daily exposed to the elements, such as farmers and construction workers, working in the heat is no sweat. The fitness fanatics strive to perspire. Sweat therapy is espoused by some as being a great detox.

However, it does not take much to get others hot and bothered. And the unseasonably warm weather is definitely affecting people’s humour.

“Suck it up buttercup” does not cut it with the many who are genuinely harmed by hot weather.

Senior citizens, infants and people with chronic diseases are vulnerable to high temperatures.

In addition to feeling the physical effects of high temperatures, many folks also suffer from a deterioration in their mental health when they strive to beat the heat. Irritable, tired, depressed, the heat weary struggle to get through another muggy day.

Hot conditions can be deadly, note advocates who are urging the Ontario government to identify heat stress as a workplace hazard in the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

“The dangers of heat stress at work are real. Without meaningful legislation, Ontario workers will continue to face the threat of heat-related injuries, sickness, and even death,” said Laura Walton, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, which has launched “The Heat is on! A campaign to combat heat stress in Ontario workplaces, along with the Ontario New Democratic Party.

The Ministry of Labour conducted a 30-day consultation last year about a heat stress regulation, but the government, as these words were being written, had yet to take any action. The proposal would introduce a stand-alone heat stress regulation with specific requirements that would apply to all workplaces. One proposed regulation reads, “All employers would have a duty to take all measures reasonably necessary in the circumstances to protect workers from exposure to hazardous thermal conditions that may result in a heat-related illness or a worker’s core body temperature exceeding 38°C (100°F).” Think of that for a sec – 38 degrees. You do not ever want to get that hot.

Under the current law, employers have a general duty  to take every precaution reasonable for the protection of a worker.

But the province is being pushed to go further. “We need heat stress legislation for everyone in Ontario, not just workers,” stated Walton. “Our working conditions are the living, learning, growing, and participating conditions for us all. From sweltering and overcrowded classrooms to poorly ventilated and overheated long-term care rooms, from the stuffy and stifling shop floor to the scorching sun of an outdoor job site — the heat is a hazard that many workers simply cannot escape.”

Most issues can be resolved by employing common sense, which is, in government circles, not always a common commodity.

But the bottom line is that any action that could prevent people from getting overheated would be cool. It would be a win for employees and employers. Happy, safe and comfortable workers are productive workers.

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