Health & Safety

The BFAWU raised the issue of high workplace temperatures at the 2011 TUC Congress. The motion was seconded by the RMT and was passed unanimously: “Congress agrees that the TUC increase the pressure on the government of the day to legislate for a maximum working temperature that covers all workplaces.

A maximum temperature of 30°C or 27°C should be pursued for those doing strenuous work, where once the temperature reaches the maximum limit, then control measures must be implemented to reduce the heat and/or the effect on the employee.

Congress would also ask that the TUC put pressure on the Labour Party to ensure that this long-standing campaign forms part of their manifesto pledge.”

Ronnie Draper (General Secretary of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union) moved Motion 79:

I would like to start off by saying a big thank you to the Trade Union Coordinating Group for the work they have done, along with John McDonnell of our own Parliamentary Group, in bringing this age-old problem to the fore. I would also like to take the opportunity to highlight the launch of the Cool it! Campaign, which we are launching today. We will be sending out press briefings this afternoon. It is a campaign that highlights one of the biggest threats and the biggest problems that is facing workers in the UK, and one of the potential dangerous hazards in work, that is, working in extremes of temperature. I actually believe we came near to achieving a maximum working temperature under the auspices of Lord McKenzie but, unfortunately, in 2010 we had a change of government and now we have Cameron trivialising health and safety, we have Grayling talking about something he does not know anything about, that is health and safety, and at all stages we are being obstructed.

Comrades, we actually had a talk with the civil servants about this problem and they brought together a seminar of like-minded people, and some people in this room actually took part in that. They had a consultant called Ray Kemp. I do not know where they got him from but this guy had absolutely no knowledge of working in temperatures other than he did confess that he had worked in Australia; I think he was probably a deckchair attendant or something. From there the Health and Safety Executive have continued to ignore the call for a maximum working temperature and instead they offered us industry specific guidance, not the food industry, the baking industry, and we were never ever looking for that.

Our campaign has never been about standing at the end of a bread oven alone, it is about the people who work in foundries, it is about teachers who are in under-ventilated classrooms, it is about the people in catering and those who work on trains and in small galleys, it is about anybody who works in a temperature that they find uncomfortable. Our campaign has never been about stopping the job. It has been about getting trigger points where control measures kick in. It is about getting a level of consistency that employers will follow rather than leaving it to them to decide. More importantly, it is about how we protect workers.

The HSE, and all the companies that we deal with, have never been involved in recording statistics on thermal discomfort, neither is there any record of how many people have had injuries at work caused by working with temperature. Of course, there has never been a long-term study done into what the effects will be of working in extremes of temperature. Then, again, stress was never thought to be dangerous until we did a long-term study and found out what a killer it is. We would like the same sort of study to be done on working with maximum temperatures.

We had protracted debates in a ministerial meeting and at the end of it we came out with the guidance, as I say, that we did not want. It shows the futility of guidance when they offer it on health and safety. We had guidance, and bear in mind this is the baking industry they made it for, which said employers should consider allowing the dress code to be relaxed and that you did not have to wear ties and stuff like that. We do not wear ties in a bakery and neither do we wear duffle coats, and neither do we wear Ugg boots; it is too hot in a bakery. This is the sort of thing we had: we should consider changing the process, the time of the day and where the process goes. It is a 24-hour process. When do we move it and where do we move it to? It is hot all the time. They talk about moving to a place where it is a lot cooler. We have some bakeries with 1,000 people in them. Do they all go along to the managing director’s office or sit in the back of a car because that is the only cool place there happens to be in that factory?

This is where we are up to. They talked about communication for managers, what managers should do, and they said, “Please let your manager know if you are uncomfortable.” We have been doing this for years. This is the problem we have with the campaign and this is why we have it today. The last one he said was, if 20% of people complain about heat then you should consider doing something. Of course, if I am in a bakery of 100 and 19 people are complaining, I am all right. If 19 do not complain, then whether I sweat or faint, or drop dead, so far as they are concerned it does not matter, it is still only advisory.

Comrades, guidance has absolutely no teeth whatsoever as a company can ignore it, so for all these reasons we want to ensure that this campaign carries on, irrespective of the colour of governments. We do not want industry guidance; we want protection for the working population of this country. I am going to finish off just by saying we urge you to get in touch with your parliamentary groups and the MPs that you work with to promote this campaign, to promote the Cool it! Campaign, and to get your MPs to sign early day motion 2151. We urge the TUC to use their good offices to pursue this topic. With the Cool it! Campaign, the TUCG Campaign, and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union campaign, together we can end this misery that blights the lives of millions of people. (Applause)

Owen Herbert (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) seconded Motion 79:

Many of our RMT members in transport and in maritime suffer under high heat temperatures, in particular with hard, strenuous, physical jobs whether it be on ship or on train, or actually on track. Saying that, a lot of people may think our track workers would not really be subjected to high temperature, in particular with the summer months that we have had recently. In Britain we do have some high temperatures and therefore track workers, in particular, suffer not just with high temperatures working outside but, obviously, the effects of sunlight and the risks that that brings along.

For maritime members, in particular working in engine rooms and galley kitchens where space is extremely tight, it is extremely strenuous activity/work and obviously with the protective clothing that individuals have to wear it puts an extra burden on their physical ability to work in high temperatures. I am a chef on board trains between Swansea and London Paddington, working on board rolling stock that is well in its 30-year old timeframe at the moment, and with privatisation coming in and the lack of maintenance on the rolling stock that we have in our transportation network many of you will have experienced high temperatures just being passengers in the summer months when the air-conditioning and fans are not working on our high-speed trains, so think what it is like in a small kitchen on board a train, in particular if there are delays when we are stuck there for three, four, maybe sometimes five hours. It is not a matter of taking a tie off or taking a jacket off, I would love to strip down to my underpants but, believe you me, it is not a pretty sight and it will put you off your food. (Laughter) My food is not all that good, anyway. (Laughter) Obviously, there is a funny side to it but there is a serious side to it as well. Proper legislation needs to be put in place to protect our members in all industries whether they work in offices, aeroplanes, trains, buses, railways, and the maritime sector, give them a proper level of working conditions, comfortable working conditions. So, Congress, I ask you to support. Thank you. (Applause)

Category: Health & Safety

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