What are the employer’s obligations in the event of a heat wave?

What are the employer’s obligations in the event of a heat wave?

All the lights are red, we are told of a heat wave never before encountered, even in the middle of June. Due to the occurrence of heat waves that can pose a health risk for the population and workers, a seasonal watch period is open as every year from June 1 to april 15. Since 2022, the Ministry of Labour, Full Employment and Integration has been reminding you of the precautions to take to protect yourself from high heat at work.

The employer has a “result safety obligation” which must be understood as a real duty of prevention. Failure to comply with this obligation constitutes, in the event of an accident at work or occupational disease, an inexcusable fault on the part of the employer.

The general obligation: article L4121-1 of the Labor Code

In general, the law obliges the employer to take all the necessary measures to preserve the safety and health of its employees. This obligation presupposes acting upstream by carrying out preventive actions, assessing the risks, informing the employees and planning an organization as well as appropriate means.

Focus on a few specific obligations

During periods of high temperatures and heat waves  [application/pdf – 608.2 KB] and also during this period of Covid-19, the employer puts in place the necessary measures to protect the health of its employees so that they can:

  • be vigilant and look out for each other to react quickly in case of exhaustion or dehydration;
  • protect their skin and head from the sun;
  • report discomfort or heat stroke;
  • respect barrier gestures in order to avoid wearing masks continuously;
  • provide drinking water near workstations (individual water bottles or water point with cups, regularly disinfected);
  • adjust working hours as much as possible.

For outdoor work, it is also:

  • to provide workers with a rest room adapted to the climatic conditions or to arrange the site in such a way as to allow the organization of breaks in equivalent safety conditions;
  • to provide workers with at least 3 liters of drinking and fresh water at least per person and per day (construction sites);
  • ensure that drivers of machinery and vehicles are not exposed to excessive temperature rises

Certain provisions emanating from articles R4121-1, R4222-1 and following of the Labor Code are to be known.

– If the premises are closed, the air must be renewed and ventilated in order to guarantee the purity of the atmosphere, to avoid high temperatures, unpleasant odors and condensation.

– Fresh drinking water must be made available to employees.

– Outdoor workstations must be set up to protect workers from atmospheric conditions.

– In the construction sector, three liters of water per day must be distributed to each employee, a room must be provided to guarantee the safety and health of employees. If premises are not fitted out, the site must be fitted out to preserve the health and safety of employees .

Recommendations, to consume without moderation

Even if the Labor Code does not give any precise indication of the maximum temperatures beyond which employees must stop working, the INRS and the CNAMTS indicate that above 33° C, the risks are important for workers.

Here are examples of measures that can be taken in order to comply with the obligations related to high temperatures but above all, to preserve your health and that of your teams:

  • Scheduling;
  • Arrangement of the working environment;
  • Reduction in the carrying of loads;
  • Ensure the compatibility of personal protection with heat;
  • Provision of sources of drinking and fresh water;
  • Limitation of exposure time;
  • Avoid any isolated work;
  • Informing employees.

In case of “heat stroke”

In the event that an employee feels ill despite the precautions taken by the company, it is imperative that:

  • alert the emergency services: Samu (15), firefighters (18);
  • take all first aid measures.

Workplaces must be equipped with first aid equipment, adapted to the risks and easily accessible.

The presence of an employee trained in first aid is mandatory in two cases:

  • in each workshop where dangerous work is carried out;
  • on each site employing at least 20 workers for more than 15 days where dangerous work is carried out (C. trav., art. R. 4224-14 et seq.).

Apart from these two cases, it is nevertheless recommended to have employees able to provide first aid to a victim of an accident at work , or even illness, regardless of the risks or the size of the company. .

The employee’s right of withdrawal

The employee has the right to withdraw from his workstation if he considers that he is in “serious and imminent danger” to his health and that of other workers, according to article L4131-1 of the Labor Code. To exercise his right of withdrawal, he does not need to be authorized by his employer.

As there is no temperature threshold defined by law from which there is a possibility of exercising this right of withdrawal, the assessment of temperatures is made on a case-by-case basis, depending on the work environment, the type of work to be carried out, the precautions taken by the employer, etc.

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