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When the heat hits: what are the demands on employees?

Tens of thousands of people deal with this every year: what am I entitled to at work when it’s over 30 degrees outside? And do I even have to go to work? Unfortunately, the legislation is very opaque in this respect, leaving most people to rely solely on newspaper articles. Let’s review what an employer has to provide in this respect.

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What legislation should the employer rely on?

We typically associate health and safety at work with training in the use of electrical equipment. However, there is one situation in which OHS is addressed more frequently, and that is during hot weather.

The basic framework of legal regulation is provided by the relatively economical Labour Code, which talks about a safe and health-safe working environment and working conditions, as well as taking measures to prevent risks. However, if we want to imagine something specific under these words, we have to look at Government Regulation No 361/2007, which lays down more detailed conditions for safety at work with various factors, i.e. not only temperature factors but also other types of stress (dust, chemical factors, biological agents, etc.).

Tip: The term “Occupational Health and Safety” (OHS) covers a wide range of issues and rules. Many employers and employees see these areas as a necessary evil and a formality. However, this can change in the event of a serious accident, an inspection by a labour inspectorate or an employment dispute. We have summarised the issue in general terms in our article on the website.

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It has to be said that this legislation is not very intuitive, so let’s explain in a clear way what it contains.

The Annex to the Government Regulation, which contains dozens of detailed tables, will provide us with an essential stepping stone. In the very first one we find a general breakdown of work according to the total average energy expenditure and fluid loss per eight-hour shift. However, it is not possible to assume that all jobs on the market are listed and broken down. So we find a total of eight groups (classes), which both describe an activity in general terms and give an exemplary selection of the specific occupations covered by the class. The simplest activity we can think of is sitting office work, while the most demanding ones include excavation, axe work, etc.

Tip: Far from being relevant only for setting the temperature conditions, the classes also tell us, for example, which occupations women are not allowed to perform from a safety and security point of view. These are those classified in Class IVb and V.

Example:
The second half of the table starts with class IIIb, which includes: ‘Standing work with continuous use of both upper limbs, trunk, walking, construction work in traditional building, cleaning small castings by tamping and grinding, preparing moulds for 15 to 50 kg castings, glass blowing in the production of large pieces, operating rubber presses, press work in forges, walking on undulating terrain without strain, gardening and agricultural work.”

If the employee or employer does not find a specific position within this table, it is up to the employer to assign the position to one of the categories according to the general characteristics.

The government regulation also talks about regular ventilation in the workplace and, if circumstances permit, ensuring certain temperature standards. The following table of the government regulation sets out the temperatures in which workers in each class should ideally be kept. In general, the less physically demanding the work, the higher the lower and upper temperature limits.

Employee claims for non-compliance with recommended conditions

If the specified temperatures are not met for objective reasons, it certainly does not mean that the employee can throw away the keyboard or hammer and go home. The legislation is mindful of such situations and attaches various claims to them. However, these again vary according to each class.
For the least physically demanding occupations in Class I and Class IIa, compliance with the temperatures set out in the table is not required on an exceptionally warm day, which is defined as a day on which the maximum outside air temperature is above 30 °C. However, in such a case, compensation for fluid loss must be provided. In addition, in the event that the temperature in the workplace exceeds 36 °C, a rota and safety breaks must be applied.

In the case of work classified in Class IIb to V where the permissible workload levels are not complied with, a rota and safety breaks must be applied within the framework of compliance with the long- and short-term permissible working time per shift. The provision of protective drinks is also expected.

The Regulation further distinguishes between the conditions of acclimatised and non-acclimatised workers, an acclimatised worker being one who has been performing work for at least 3 weeks after entering the workplace under consideration.

Protective drinks

Theprotective drink must be non-toxic and must not contain more than 6,5 per cent sugar, but may contain substances that increase the body’s resistance. It must not contain more than 1 per cent alcohol. For less demanding jobs, it is sufficient to provide spring water or mineral water as a protective drink. In principle, unrestricted access to drinking water is sufficient. For work classified in Class IIIb to V, natural mineral water of medium mineral content or water of similar total mineral content shall be provided as a protective drink.

The volume in which protective drinks must be provided again varies according to class: from 0.9 to 2.7 litres for the least demanding work, to 2.2 to 3 litres for the most demanding work.

Ventilation and air conditioning

Although the regulation talks about air ventilation and ventilation to achieve ideal temperature standards. However, nowhere is there an obligation to introduce, for example, air conditioning. If it is used in the workplace, then here again we find the ideal temperature settings. But whether these are maintained in individual offices, for example, is then more a matter of agreement between the parties involved.

Additional benefits beyond the regulations

The above requirements must be met by the employer in order to fulfil the letter of the law. However, most of them now go further and offer additional benefits. These may include:

  • home office work, which eliminates the sometimes several-hour-long car or public transport journey.
    a change of dress code, where a suit and tie, jacket or closed shoes are not required even in otherwise very formal environments.
  • adjustment of working hours – i.e. their temporary shortening,
  • shorter shifts and more frequent rotations,
  • theprovision of sunscreen for workers working outdoors,
  • providing air conditioning or at least shelter and shade for workers working outside.

The above measures are not so much a luxury for the employees, but they usually benefit the employer as well. According to some research, worker performance drops to around 50 per cent of output at temperatures of around 30 degrees, for example. And we’re talking about office work again. That’s why, for example, rotating employees more frequently and reducing working hours can yield more efficient results within the workplace.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

Education
  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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