Working in any weather
For the 25% of Australians who need to work outside sometimes rainy days can be more than an inconvenience – it can be dangerous. That’s why there are specific rules and guidelines in place to make sure that businesses protect their workers when the elements aren’t on their side.
Protecting workers is often a matter of judgement
Whether its safe to work or not is up to the management or the workers.
Every state in Australia has their own set of occupational health and safety laws and these are also guided by a national strategy overseen by Safe Work Australia.
While every workplace has an obligation to provide a safe workplace, there are no specific laws that dictate when workers should not be onsite during inclement weather. Some awards or enterprise agreements will set out what is inclement weather and what happens when people are sent home as a result of that weather. Some awards allow for flexibility in these circumstances. This means the employer may let employees use time in lieu, RDOs or other leave rather than requiring them to take leave without pay.
Employers can also send employees home when they can’t do any useful work because of a natural disaster that is outside their control – like a bushfire or flood. This is called a stand down and employers are not required to pay employees in this situation. A stand down is different to sending people home due to inclement weather though.
In the absence of an award or enterprise agreement, the decision as to whether it’s safe to work or not is left up to the management or the workers. This places both in a difficult situation, particularly when their income may be contingent upon completing the job.
In any temperature, workplaces must be safe
Wearing protective clothing and providing suitable shelter are options that can protect workers from the weather.
Safe Work Australia has set out its Model Code of Practice: Managing the Work Environment and Facilities that provides guidance to businesses on establishing a safe workplace. Some options when the weather is too wet outside include working indoors, providing suitable shelter and making sure that structures and electrical points are secure. One slip on a ladder can cause irreparable harm. Cold weather can also cause hypothermia that can be life-threatening so providing access to heaters and adequate protective clothing can help.
While rain can cause flooding and make working outdoors challenging, hot weather can be just as troublesome. Working in the heat can cause dehydration, cramps, burns and heat stroke. In Safe Work Australia’s Guide For Managing the Risks of Working in Heat they suggest providing workers with protective clothing including hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Other options include making sure there is sufficient shade or shelter, or restricting outdoor working hours to early mornings or late afternoon. Making sure there are sufficient breaks and plenty of water to keep workers hydrated is also crucial.
To make sure your workers are protected in any weather, partner with an agency who understands your obligations.