This report outlines why working in extreme heat is a growing and urgent issue for workers. It explains the general impacts of heat stress; it discusses recent research on its physical and mental effects; and it makes suggestions for future areas of inquiry and action. Climate change is altering weather patterns, resulting in unusual and extreme conditions.
This includes more hot days and longer heatwaves, which can push the physical capacity of workers beyond what is safe. Some workers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of these conditions. Our research identified four key groups of workers as being at high risk of heat stress:
- workers who labour inside, in environments with poor climate control, or whose work requires them to be exposed to heat and humidity.
- outdoor workers, especially those who are weather-exposed.
- workers moving between different climates as part of their work (i.e., moving between extreme heat and cold).
- workers whose roles expose them to situational extreme heat, such as emergency workers and firefighters.
Questions of social justice are deeply embedded in climate change and rising temperatures. Workers whose jobs are less secure — for example, temporary workers, on-demand workers and migrant workers — are just some of the groups who are at greater risk.
As many workers experienced over this past summer, in relation to the unprecedented bushfires, appropriate policies and plans are not always in place to ensure that people are Heat Stress and Work 5 protected from dangerous conditions that could cause illness or injury to themselves or others.
This report has three main sections:
- (Background) provides an overview of heat stress and the problems it presents for workers.
- (Heat Stress at Work—Case Studies) describes the findings from two detailed case studies of the impacts of high heat on workers. The first case study examines the experience of outdoor council workers and delivery riders in Sydney. The second case study reports on workers in the building and construction industry in New South Wales.
- (What Are Unions Doing?) details how trade unions in Australia are responding to the growing impacts of heat stress workers across different industries. This section helps map the complexities faced by workers and their unions in dealing with heat stress in the workplace.