Already on Monday, the Mirror headline was “BLOWTORCH BRITAIN”. Then it got worse: Tuesday saw the highest temperature ever recorded!
And yes, it was predicted and predictable! But were provisions to cope with this put in place by any of the relevant authorities? Absolutely not! Certainly not in factories or on construction sites. And then there were the fires: homes next to tinder-dry fields in Dagenham Ballards Road and Weddington village burnt to a cinder. Nobody, not even the fire service, expected that.
Just days before the heat was due to peak, Network Rail sent workers out to paint (some!) rail tracks and points with reflective paint. Inter-city trains were cancelled, but already on Monday, delays and electrical failures left railway workers - and of course passengers - stranded.
However, while trains were cancelled and office workers were told to work from home (or go swimming!) most manual workers - indoors and outside - were expected to carry on working. They were just told by employers to be sure to “stay hydrated”!
The 30-year old Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which barely changed the old 1961/1974 Factory Acts is the only “law” governing conditions inside workplaces. But it says nothing about an upper heat limit, above which it becomes illegal for bosses to ask workers to work.
And by the way, extreme heat inside factories is nothing new. And it’s not only linked to hot summer weather. The absence of any actual law protecting workers has been a “burning” issue ever since the 1800s!
Of course, bosses do the minimum, if they do anything at all. Today, in record heat, they still place the onus on workers to keep themselves cool.
So workers have, over the years, had to take their own measures! And they have! For instance (long ago!) at Ford Dagenham, the PTA’s Sealer Deck workers, who worked just under the roof, instituted their own regime. It led to a special agreement, signed with Ford bosses, way back in May 1978, in fact, the same year as the historic 9-week Ford strike!
The agreement stipulated heat reliefs: they got a 10-minute break in every hour if the temperature went above 90F. Iced drinks had to be freely available. For every 2 degrees F hotter, the breaks would increase to 15 minutes, 20 minutes, etc... Until work ceased!
Already yesterday, a temperature of 100F (37C) was registered in many workplaces and much higher, where there is heat-generating machinery. Even air-conditioning (rarely present) can fail in these conditions. So no point in waiting for a law change: the only way for workers to ensure they can remain cool, is to generate enough militant heat against the bosses, in order to take over control of their working conditions and enforce their own limits!