Working in a heatwave: The Swiss laws employees should know about
The Swiss government has issued a heatwave alert this week with maximum temperatures of up to 39C possible. But does that mean employees could be sent home? The Local takes a look.
The heat is on. After a fairly cool spring, summer has arrived in Switzerland with a vengeance with highs of up to 39C on the cards for the middle of the week.
While these temperatures may be normal in some parts of the world, many Swiss workplaces are not set up for the heat, meaning conditions could be intolerable.
But if you are hoping you might be sent home because of the extreme weather, you'll probably have to think again.
That's because in Switzerland, there is no law stating employees do not have to work once a certain temperature has been reached – one key exception being for pregnant and breastfeeding women who are not required to work in temperatures below -5C and above 28C.
Instead, Swiss employers are under a more general obligation to ensure that employee health is not at risk, including during heatwaves. This includes ensuring that workplace facilities and operation procedures are set up to reduce risk.
To help achieve this aim, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) has issued two sets of recommendations for working conditions during heatwaves – one for employees working inside and one for people working outside.
In both cases, the recommendations are graded depending on temperature and humidity levels and on how physically strenuous individual jobs are. It is up to employers to decide when and how to implement these measures and to inform employees of possible risks.
Meanwhile, in the highly-politicized area of workers' rights, employees have no direct recourse. They cannot demand that their employer installs air conditioning in an office during a heatwave, or that they be sent home.
Installing fans in offices
To give an example of the SECO recommendations: in a case where employees are doing seated office work in a building with a midday internal temperature of 32C (after the added effect of humidity is added in), employers should consider measures include installing fans, changing work hours and offering extra breaks.
With higher internal temperatures, other possible measures could include moving furniture or equipment to cooler areas away from direct sunlight.
Meanwhile, for outside workplaces, employees should keep an extra close watch on employees' health. They should also provide shaded areas for break periods and ensure there is plenty of water at hand, including bottled water if necessary.
Read also: An essential guide to Swiss work permits
SECO also recommends that people working outside, such as construction workers, should start and finish earlier to avoid the worst of the sun. More breaks are also required during extreme temperatures. Levels of physical effort should also be reduced as the temperature climbs further.
‘Rules are too vague’
But unions argue that Swiss law is too vague on issues around safety during heatwaves.
On Monday, Swiss Union Unia called for external workplaces exposed to direct sunlight, such as road work sites, to be closed when temperatures hit 35C.
In a statement, the union also said work should only be carried out in the shade for temperatures of 30C and above.
“Working hours should be adjusted so that no work is done during the hottest part of the day,” the union said in a statement.