Construction workers to go home if mercury hits 28C and humidity reaches 75 per cent

Tradies could get an extra 13 days off under a controversial policy calling for tools down if temps hit 28C and humidity reaches 75 per cent.

Construction workers across Brisbane could get an extra two weeks’ leave a year under a controversial union policy allowing them to stop work when the temperature hits 28C and humidity reaches 75 per cent.

The policy has been taken up by 140 commercial contractors and subcontractors across southeast Queensland after a campaign by the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union, according to The Australian, including the $3.6 billion Queen’s Wharf project in Brisbane.

The paper notes Bureau of Meteorology data shows there were 13 days over the past year when these weather conditions applied.

Under the guidelines, employees will be alerted to possible “extreme hot weather” the day before a shift, and work will be modified including by rescheduling “hot tasks” and potentially limiting days to eight hours.

Where the temperature is 28C and humidity 75 per cent or more “after three hours from the commencement of a shift there will be an orderly cessation of work and preparations for safe completions of critical tasks currently underway … or modifications to the workload”.

The policy also calls for work to stop if the temperature hits 35C, irrespective of humidity, which is consistent with guidelines in other states.

Master Builders Queensland chief executive Grant Galvin told The Australian the hot-weather policy was “ripe for exploitation” by the CFMEU. “This will create an occupational health and safety nightmare,” he said. “It absolutely has the potential to cause more stoppages in Brisbane throughout next year.”

He added that if the provision was applied outside of southeast Queensland, “it’s likely that no construction work would get done in a year as Queensland is by nature, hot and humid” and “if you applied this provision to Darwin in the NT, you wouldn’t work one day in a year”.

“When we questioned the logic of limiting this provision to SEQ if it was a genuine health and safety issue, the answer we were given was ‘the workers ­outside SEQ are more used to the higher temperatures and ­humidity, therefore they are at less risk as they know how to manage it’,” he said.

An unidentified senior industry figure told The Australian the agreement showed the “absolute stronghold” the CFMEU had in Queensland.

“Nobody has a problem paying staff well, but no company would willingly pay over $250,000 a year for a carpenter on a 50-hour week with 26 rostered days off every year without being forced to do so with a very big stick, and that stick is the threat of unlawful industrial action and stoppages,” they said.

The heat stress policies were introduced at the recommendation of the coroner as part of an inquest into the 2013 death Glenn Newport, who collapsed while working in extremely hot conditions on a coal seam gas pipeline construction site near Roma in Queensland’s southern inland.

CFMEU assistant secretary Jade Ingham said in a statement: “This is not new policy, and we are now coming into the third summer it has been in place, during which time I have no doubt it has saved many workers from serious injury or worse.”

“Our policy has been grossly misrepresented. The policy does not mean workers automatically walk off the job when the temperature rise.

“It means there is a requirement to better manage a job site so heat impacts are managed and minimised. This can be achieved through measures such as rotating workers, more regular rest and hydration breaks, rescheduling things like concrete pours to earlier hours, or perhaps adjusting work during extreme heat to areas of a site that are less exposed.”

“Our members simply want to come home at the end of the day rather than being carted of a site in the back of an ambulance.”

“The people complaining about this policy should get out of their air-conditioned offices and spend a few days on a building site in Queensland in mid-summer and actually familiarise themselves with the heat, the dust, the noise, the dirt and mud and sweat associated with hard physical labour.

“Maybe then they may have some appreciation for what a hard day’s work actually is, and the risks that come with toiling in extreme temperatures.”

The union pointed out the policy was implement soon after a 2016 coroner’s report into the death of a construction worker at Roma in Queensland after which Coroner John Hutton found “substantial deficiencies” in the way the industry managed heat exposure.

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