Working in warm weather: is the employer obliged to take measures?

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Date:
22 Jul 2019

Tropical weather is expected in the Netherlands this week. High temperatures can cause problems in the workplace. Heat reduces the employee's ability to concentrate, which in turn reduces productivity and increases the risk of an accident. Is an employer obliged to take measures in the event of heat?

By:
Joost Verlaan

What is regulated by law about working with heat?

Based on the Working Conditions Act, the employer is obliged to take effective measures against heat. However, the temperature under which employees should work has not been specified, but the temperature in the workplace must not be harmful to the health of the employee. An employer must seize activities if continued working is no longer deemed responsible. However, there is no clear answer as to when a workplace is too hot and thus harmful to the health of the employee. This differs per type of work and workplace, but also per type of employee. In sectors such as construction and the agricultural sector, however, concrete rules have been laid down in the collective labour agreements.

Measures to be taken

If working in high temperatures cannot be avoided, the employer must assess whether working in that heat is strictly necessary. Moreover, it is important that an employer consults its employees about possible measures. The employer must do everything within its power to prevent health problems for employees. Employers could, for example, take the following measures:

  • Advise employees to take in sufficient fluids and take extra breaks if necessary;
  • Avoid, reduce or delay heavy physical exertion;
  • Reduce working time;
  • Introduce a hot weather plan/schedule, allowing employees to start and stop earlier;
  • Increase cooling by means of sun blinds, fans and air conditioning;
  • Provide employees working outside (out in the open) with UV protective sunscreen and clothing;
  • Easing of applicable clothing regulations

Refusal to work

The above shows that an employer is expected to take the necessary measures. If an employer has taken no or insufficient measures, this does not automatically imply that an employee may refuse work. This is only permitted under certain circumstances. There must be a serious and immediate safety and health hazard, which the employer refuses to address. Although it can at times be hot in the Netherlands, which may affect employees, in most cases temperatures do not rise to such a level that it may pose a danger to the health and safety of the employee if they do work. Only in exceptional cases can an employee refuse work because of the heat.