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What Swiss employees need to know about working in a heatwave

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
What Swiss employees need to know about working in a heatwave
Extra protection is required for those working outdoors.Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Working while temperatures exceed 30C is not only unpleasant, but can also be dangerous to health and safety. What are Swiss employers’ responsibilities in such cases?

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Unlike in countries such as Germany, where authorities can declare ‘heat-free’ days when people don't have to work, no such perk exists in Switzerland.

Or, rather, no longer exists, because before the turn of the millennium, many cantons had these so called Hitzefrei days. For the past 20 years, however, that is no longer the case. In 2003, Basel-City was the last canton to abolish this regulation.

One key exception is for pregnant or breastfeeding women who are not required to work in temperatures above 28C (or below -5C in the winter).

What does Swiss law say?

Generally speaking, the employer must protect employees’ health and safety in the workplace.

While this refers to all kinds of workplace situations, the Swiss Labour Act also specifies health protection in concrete terms.

In extreme weather conditions, for instance, the room temperature, air circulation, and relative humidity must be coordinated in such a way that "a room climate is not detrimental to health and appropriate to the type of work".

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) has also issued guidelines for employers about how to protect their workforce during hot spells.

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What are the SECO’s recommendations to protect workers during heatwaves?

For those working in offices or other indoor spaces with an internal midday temperature of 32C, employers should consider installing fans, changing work hours (avoiding high-heat periods in the middle of the afternoon), and offering extra breaks.

For outdoor workplaces, such as construction sites for example, employers should — besides voluntarily adjusting work hours as mentioned above — also inform workers about the risks of the sun, heat and ozone; provide means of protection (suitable clothing, sunscreen, etc.), as well as shaded areas for break periods, while ensuring there is plenty of bottled water at hand.

Levels of physical effort should also be reduced as the temperature climbs further.

READ ALSO: Switzerland's official advice on how to protect yourself in a heatwave

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Beware of heat-related work accidents

High temperatures put a strain on the body and can be dangerous for people working outdoors, according to a warning issued by the National Accident Insurance Fund (SUVA).

“Statistics show that on days when temperatures exceed 30C, there are 7 percent more accidents than on other summer days,” SUVA said in a press release.

For all those working outdoors (and their employers), SUVA suggests the following measures:

  • Protect the head from heat and UV rays: if safety requirements permit, wear a helmet with a neck protector and a front visor or a sun hat
  • Cover the skin as much as possible with light summer work clothes and apply sunscreen several times a day to exposed areas
  • Be attentive to the feeling of thirst and drink water at least every 20 minutes to avoid dehydration due to perspiration. Make sure you are sufficiently hydrated before you even start work
  • Take regular breaks in the shade. Frequent short breaks provide better recovery than a few long breaks
  • Adapt the pace of work according to the heat and the feeling

What happens if you have a heat-related health problem or injury at work?

As for all kinds of accidents, if you work for your employer for at least eight hours per week you will be automatically insured under the obligatory accident insurance scheme, also known as UVG (German), LAA (French), or LAINF (Italian).

READ ALSO: How does accident insurance work in Switzerland?

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