How climate change could affect employment law practices in manufacturing
by Lai-King Hum (she/her), Principal of Hum Law Firm
You can mitigate the risk of health and safety concerns created by extreme heat by designing your manufacturing plant to reduce heat stress.
Climate change presents an unprecedented challenge within the manufacturing industry. Not only will businesses need to address health and safety issues and productivity loss caused by rising temperatures, climate change may also impact recruitment and corporate social responsibility.
How to manage health and safety in the workplace amidst rising temperatures
Employers must consider how they will address health and safety concerns created by rising temperatures in the workplace. Applicable occupational health and safety legislation requires employers to provide their employees with a safe workplace. As temperatures rise, governments will provide guidance on how to approach extreme temperatures in the workplace to avoid heat stress. For example, in Ontario, the provincial government created Guideline No. 33: Working in Extreme Temperature Conditions. You should assess the following when considering your approach to heat stress in the workplace:
- Do I have a workforce engaged in physical work?
- Do I have employees with pre-existing medical conditions?
- Do my employees work in an extreme heat workplace such as a foundry or smelter?
- Are my employees working in conditions with direct sunlight and high humidity?
You can mitigate the risk of health and safety concerns created by extreme heat by designing your workplace to reduce heat stress. For example:
- Reduce physical demands through the use of machines;
- Reduce temperature and humidity with air conditioning; or
- Provide air-conditioned rest areas.
Managing productivity loss due to heat stress
Climate change is expected to increase work-related heat stress incidents, which will in turn reduce productivity unless managed properly. Studies have documented this impact to manufacturing in other countries more prone to heat stress, but Canada is beginning to experience and will continue to face this issue.
In addition to your health and safety obligations, employees cannot optimally perform their duties if they are fatigued or ill due to heat stress. Employers should implement a heat stress policy to manage employee productivity and health. A heat stress policy should balance employees’ health and safety with productivity considerations, and should include:
- Heat stress-based scheduling:
- Mandate that strenuous jobs should take place during cooler hours in the morning or evening;
- Provide employees with time to adjust to more intense work;
- Provide employees with regularly scheduled breaks in an air-conditioned or shaded area; and
- If possible, regularly rotate employees in extreme heat conditions throughout the day.
- Train employees in First Aid to address heat related illness;
- Train employees to recognize the signs of heat stress; and
- Create an emergency response plan with clearly defined procedures to ensure a smooth response to any heat related illness to reduce workplace disruption.
- Invest in technology that will reduce heat stress in the workplace; and
- Provide employees with appropriate clothing and, if applicable, PPE.
Implementing a heat stress policy benefits your business because, not only does it ensure your employees are healthy, but it also allows your employees to optimally perform in extreme heat environments. Without such a policy in place, productivity loss caused by heat related illness is inevitable.
Recruitment and corporate responsibility in the time of climate change
Many employees, including those who may be with your business for years to come, are deeply concerned about climate change.
To attract top talent, you may wish to consider implementing a proactive strategy to address climate change that aligns with their values. For example:
- While you will of course require the bulk of your workforce to work in the physical workplace, offering telework to office or administrative staff, resulting in less time commuting, could prove beneficial; and
- You could also attract climate change conscious employees with perquisites such as a car allowance for electric vehicles.
Through careful planning and employee management, you can effectively run your business and avoid productivity loss as the consequences of climate change increase, while ensuring your employees are provided with a safe and healthy workplace.