Office workers sit in airconditioned comfort, but when they leave to go home, the cool air shuts down before cleaners arrive to do hard physical work.
As the temperatures rise, cleaners sweat in steamy offices. Other workers struggle to keep cool in badly ventilated kitchens, while security guards swelter inside synthetic uniforms and are forced to wear ties.
There were 662 workers compensation claims for workplace fatigue, skin cancer and heat stroke in the four years to July 2015, according to the latest available government figures. An average of one person died each year from heat exposure in the workplace.
The State Insurance Regulatory Authority said there were 130 workers' compensation claims for heat stroke at a cost of $253,000, 141 claims for fatigue at a cost of $1.3 million and 391 claims for skin cancer at a cost of $5.1 million.
The union that represents hospitality workers and cleaners is now calling for tighter regulation and better enforcement of safe conditions for workers forced to work in hot conditions.
United Voice ACT branch secretary Lyndal Ryan said there were only loose requirements for employers to follow when it came to ensuring their employees were protected from hot temperatures.
"What we are seeing is increasingly high and low temperatures and workers who are very unclear about what their rights are," Ms Ryan said.
"There are workers who don't have physically demanding jobs in airconditioned offices. The irony is that they turn the airconditioning off when they leave and cleaners who have hard physical jobs are in buildings that stay hot for a long time after people have left work.
"Not everyone is aware of the discomfort of others who are just expected to get the job done."
Ms Ryan said the union had received calls from security guards suffering from heat stress because they were forced to wear cheap synthetic uniforms and told by their employers that they couldn't remove their ties.
But there were no clear, enforceable regulations to give workers the confidence to complain.
"Workplace laws are very unclear in this area," Ms Ryan said. "It would be helpful if we were clearly able to say to an employer those uniforms are too hot, but the regulations need to be tighter and enforceable.
"Just like you have workplaces that won't pay people what they are entitled to, people's health is also at risk because they are in precarious employment and don't want to complain."
A government spokesman for SafeWork NSW said work health and safety regulations required employers to ensure, "so far as is reasonably practicable, that workers working in extremes of heat or cold are able to carry out their work without risk to their health and safety".
But the legislation did not state a precise temperature at which workers should stop work.
The most recent SafeWork NSW figures available showed there were 13 work-related deaths from exposure to environmental heat between 2001 and 2013.
SafeWork NSW said that, if the workplace temperature was too high, employees should alert their immediate supervisor and discuss ways of reducing the impact.
"If the supervisor will not deal with the problem or you believe the problem hasn't been fixed, you should contact your health and safety representative if there is one, or the supervisor's manager," a spokesman said.
"If the matter is still unresolved and you continue to believe that an unsafe situation exists, you should contact SafeWork NSW on 13 10 50 for further advice."
Signs of heat-related illness:
- Loss of concentration
- Poor judgment
- Dizziness and fainting
Ways to prevent it:
- Start work well hydrated
- Eat regular meals and snacks to replace salt and electrolytes
- Drink a small cup of water every 20 minutes
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Take rest breaks in a cool area