Skip to main content

As we witness a rise in temperatures in Malta during the summer season, we also start witnessing an increase in office disputes centered around the preferred temperature inside an open office setting. In the meantime, throughout the summer season, employees working outside are at an even higher risk related to excessive temperatures.

This begs the question, do employers and employees have any obligations when it comes to maintaining a comfortable temperature at the workplace?

In virtue of the Occupational Health and Safety Authority Act, Chapter 424 of the Laws of Malta, employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety at all times of all persons who may be affected by the work being carried out for such employer. This includes a duty to prevent physical and occupational ill-health, injury or death. An employer may do this by following the general principles of prevention which include the following:

  1. The avoidance of risk;
  2. The identification of hazards associated with work;
  3. The evaluation of those risks which cannot be avoided;
  4. The control at source of those risks which cannot be avoided;
  5. the taking of all the necessary measures to reduce risk as much as reasonably practicable,  including  the replacement of the hazardous by the non-hazardous or by the less hazardous;
  6. by giving collective protective measures  priority  over individual protective measures;
  7. adapting the work to the worker, particularly in so far as the  design  of  work  places,  the  choice  of  work equipment and the choice of working and production methods are concerned, in particular with a view to alleviating  monotonous  work  and  work  at  a predetermined work-rate, and to reducing their effect on health;
  8. by adapting  to  technical  progress  in  the  interest  of occupational health and safety; and
  9. by the development of a coherent overall prevention policy which  covers  technology,  the  organisation  of work, working conditions, social relationships and the influence  of  factors  related  to  the  working environment.

Therefore, irrespective of whether the employer employs employees working outdoors or in an indoors environment, an employer must always carry out a risk assessment in order to identify any heat-related risk factors at the workplace and identify ways in which such risks may be avoided and controlled. When carrying out a risk assessment exercise, it is very important to involve employees in such assessments and to consult with the same employees to identify the problems which they are facing and what measures may be taken. Once such risks and possible solutions are identified, it is always advisable that employers implement a work policy for all employees to follow.

On the other hand, employees must always keep in mind that they each have a duty to safeguard one’s own health and safety and that of other persons who can be affected by reason of the work which is carried out. Therefore, one must always keep in mind ways in which different employees may be impacted by different heat-related risk factors and try and adapt to a common system beneficial for everyone, insofar as this is possible.

What are the risks which employees face when working in excessively hot environments?

Employees working in excessively hot environments may suffer from a number of risks, mainly excessive fatigue, dizziness and fainting which may lead to lack of vigilance; higher irritability; and suffering from sweats which may in turn result in dehydration and cause incidents when handling certain tools and equipment. When working in excessive heat, employees may further suffer from heat stress, which may in turn lead to heat stroke/s and/or heat exhaustion, cramps, skin rashes and burns.

Who is at risk?

Depending on the work environment in question, employees working both inside and outside may be at risk of suffering from excessive heat.

In fact, employees working inside may have an additional risk if their work involves machinery and/or equipment which generate heat. Moreover, heat may make its way indoors directly through windows and doors, or indirectly from the roof, walls and floor.

Employees working outside are in more direct danger of suffering from heat factors as they are directly exposed to UV rays. Amongst such employees one finds builders and construction workers, gardeners, and/or employees working at the beach or near swimming pools.

What is the ideal temperature?

The Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA) has issued guidelines with respect to work in the sun and heat. In these guidelines, the OHSA advises that “one of the important conditions in the workplace is to have a comfortable temperature, usually between 20 to 25°C”, which temperature may vary depending on the season we are in. Therefore, the necessary measures must be taken by employers and employees alike to ensure that work is ideally carried out in such temperatures, and that insofar as possible, these temperatures are maintained.

What measures may be taken to ensure the health and safety of employees in such environments?

Apart from ensuring that a proper risk assessment is carried out as aforementioned, employers may  implement concrete measures in order to ensure that any heat-related risks are mitigated. The OHSA provides guidelines as to what type of measures may be implemented. For example, for indoor work environments, employers may ensure that the exterior walls of their respective buildings are painted with a light colour to ensure that heat is reflected, improve wall and ceiling insulation, and ensure that they are equipped with fans and/or AC’s in order to circulate the air inside and keep temperatures at a comfortable level. For those working outside, employers may ensure that the work carried out outside is distributed in such a way that as much as possible this is not carried out when the sun is at its peak, that a job rotation system is implemented and that if possible, shade is provided to the employees in question.

Employers must also ensure that all employees have access to safe drinking water. Furthermore, employers and employees alike are also responsible for other preventative measures, such as applying sunscreen and wearing suitable clothing appropriate for the heat, such as sunglasses and hats.

written by Avv. Charlene Baldacchino Gauci

Should you require further information or legal assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Av. Charlene Baldacchino Gauci

Leave a Reply