It's getting hot in here, so take, hell, no!
August 16, 2006 7:30 PM   Subscribe

Are my co-workers and I being pansies? I work for a financial institution in Mississippi. When I got to work this morning, the air conditioning was out (probably due to a storm last night). The temp today was 96 degrees, with a heat index of 105.

I work on the 3rd floor of a building with no windows. Around 10 am, they told us that the air was fixed, but as the day wore on, it only got hotter on my, the top, floor. The lower floors did seem to cool throughout the day, but when I left at 5:30, the heat was still very intense on my floor. I think that for some reason, that floor's air was out while the others had kicked back in to gear, despite managment telling us that it was all good. I managed ok, though I ended up with a headache and got little done. Some of my coworkers, however, are pretty heavy-set and/or are older, one or two with heart problems.

No one had a thermometer (natch) but guys, I'll tell you it was pretty damn hot. They rummaged up some box fans, which helped somewhat, but mostly just stirred the stagnant air around.

My concern is tomorrow. Is it a wimpy move to call OSHA if it's still as hot in the am? I mean, we overall have it pretty cushy. I'm not on a roof with hot tar all day. I do feel that the management did not respond to the issue today (and in fact, we were made to stay late due to it being the 16th of the month) so I'm sorta torn. And of course, we're a complaining bunch. What do you guys think?
posted by thebrokedown to Work & Money (26 answers total)
If you are looking for a day off, then complain. Otherwise suck it up for one more day. A/C breaks down. They are trying to fix it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:41 PM on August 16, 2006

Calling in the Feds for a couple of days with no A/C?
That's a bit much.
posted by madajb at 7:41 PM on August 16, 2006

Just take a small thermometer in to work with you tomorrow. That would give you a solid number to use in dealing with management if you think it's hot enough to be unsafe, and if you do end up trying to call in OSHA, you'd have documented the temperature.

If you're on the top floor with no windows, it could have been hotter than 96. Depends on the building, I guess. At a certain point, I don't think it would be unreasonable to call, or at least to insist on leaving for the day.
posted by dilettante at 7:48 PM on August 16, 2006

Searching OSHA "air conditioning" temperature I found one source that said: "Office temperature and humidity conditions are generally a matter of human comfort rather than hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm. OSHA cannot cite the General Duty Clause for personal discomfort. " I'm guessing this would be an uphill battle.
posted by rolypolyman at 7:56 PM on August 16, 2006

I appreciate everyone's input. I think that my main concern is the lack of management response. I guess I jumped on the OSHA thing because they were disregarding the obvious distress of a few employees to the point of forbidding anyone to leave, while not being clear with the steps they were taking to solve the problem.

Thank you, Dilettante. I was already planning on taking a thermometer tomorrow--it was quite certainly above 95 in my little cube, and that can be a medical issue for some folks.
posted by thebrokedown at 8:06 PM on August 16, 2006

OSHA? No. But you and/or your coworkers should take it real easy and think about going home early if it's not fixed. If your boss has any sense he'll let you.

I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and I really don't know how earlier generations dealt with it without A/C.
posted by lackutrol at 8:06 PM on August 16, 2006

Missed your latest comment, obviously. If they make you work in upper-90s heat down there, with the humidity likely very high, I'd look for a different job. Somebody with heart problems dying would likely be a lot more of a problem than some people missing half a day.
posted by lackutrol at 8:10 PM on August 16, 2006

Even if it's not illegal, the temps and humidity probably exceed the safe operating specs of most of your office equipment.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:10 PM on August 16, 2006

I sympathize. It was a hot day in New Orleans, too, and the AC's out on my car. Sounds to me like you'd have been OK if they had just kept you more in the loop about what's going on. So it's a communication issue, and if you can keep from going crazy in the head with the heat, just try to get that across to them.

Don't know what it is about the heat, makes everybody grumpy, even if you're inside in the AC all day.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:14 PM on August 16, 2006

Yuk. Second Gunn on how horrible it is without A/C in the Gulf South. I work an office that doesn't have A/C right now and it is definitely uncomfortable (we don't get direct sun, I have fans, and I wear casual clothes, so it's bearable). Make a stink with management. Good luck.
posted by radioamy at 8:25 PM on August 16, 2006

What does your supervisor say? Make a stink with your supervisor and your supervisor's supervisor. At a certain point, someone should've made a common sense judgement call and sent everyone home. (I've been in this boat before. Good luck.)
posted by desuetude at 8:56 PM on August 16, 2006

My mom walked out more than once because her boss wouldn't turn the air on... caveats: the company she worked for employed ten people, and she was the only one who knew her job; she tried to retire once and after training 4 people and having them not work out, her boss convinced her to come back with a raise. After she walked out a couple of times, he let her set the air on whatever temp she wanted.

If it's really unbearable working conditions, though, I'd walk out too.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:45 PM on August 16, 2006

I think you are overreacting. It may just be that it takes the AC unit a while to lower the temperature.

It seems unlikely that your employer isn't working to make sure the AC is working. Everything you suggest seems to indicate that immediate attempts were made to fix the AC and to provide what comfort could be made available. These do not sound like actions of unaware, unresponsive or uncaring individuals. I'm not sure what the management didn't do to respond to the issue. Perhaps they poorly communicated?

It is, in my opinion, unlikely that the individuals in management telling you things are "fixed" actually resolved the breakdown personally. They were probably told it was fixed and passed it along.

Call OSHA if you want, but it seems like giving your employer at least two full business day to resolve an equipment failure would be civil, especially when they seem to be trying to do right by you.
posted by rudyfink at 9:53 PM on August 16, 2006

There are such things as portable/temporary aircon units your employers could rent for a couple of days. Has that been suggested?

How about working from home for the duration? Has that been suggested?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 10:22 PM on August 16, 2006

Is it a wimpy move to call OSHA if it's still as hot in the am?
Yes, it is.
posted by CodeBaloo at 11:13 PM on August 16, 2006

Can you just leave, saying, "Sorry, I can't take the heat? I'll take some work home with me and try to finish up what I can." If you'd lose your job over this, I'd say it's time to look for another job.

There's absolutely no way I could work in such heat, and while I wouldn't call OSHA, I think it's highly unreasonable that you should be expected to work in such heat.
posted by treepour at 11:29 PM on August 16, 2006

The windows don't open, but are there doors that could be opened (even if they had to be guarded for the day)? Open the roof access, open the stairwell doors, open the lower entrance doors, and try to make an air current. It might be worth paying a few guards to just stand there -- just make sure they keep out of the way of the doors so that the air can move through.

Also, block all sunlight. If there are no good blinds on the windows, tape up some tin foil. (It's good for keeping out the CIA mindscanner waves, too.)
posted by pracowity at 1:34 AM on August 17, 2006

Washington Post: "... experiments show that people's ability to attend to a task involving detailed concentration declines after the temperature crosses 79 degrees. Another experiment, which called for sustained attention, found that as the temperature rose from 74 degrees to 82 degrees and then to 90 degrees, people grew more distractible."
posted by Carol Anne at 4:31 AM on August 17, 2006

As someone who's gotten heat stroke, fainted and been hospitalized from exposure to temperatures as low as the mid-90s, I think people who suggest you should just grin and bear it are out of line.

Everyone's body is different, obviously, but the temperatures you're experiencing at work are very dangerous for some people.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:44 AM on August 17, 2006

I wouldn't call OSHA, but I would explain that you can't work in the office. We had this happen two summers ago and the president let us go around 1:00. I can't believe they aren't letting you go. You could try to get a few people together to make a case for it. You're not being pansies. Any reasonable person would understand that this is an exceptional situation and you should be allowed to leave or work from another location.
posted by ml98tu at 8:31 AM on August 17, 2006

One more thing, where does management sit? If they're sitting on the lower floors (which you said had cooled down), of course they thought it was fine. Bring them up to your area and perhaps they'll change their minds. Also, can you sit temporarily on another floor (in a conference room with a laptop, etc) until it cools down? Your username is quite appropriate BTW.
posted by ml98tu at 8:38 AM on August 17, 2006

Take a *big* thermometer in: one of those 12" back porch ones.

And yeah, remember the rule of thumb: the inside of your computer is 20F hotter than the outside... you're approaching maximum density there; I've seen computers fail for sustained 90F ambient in pretty short times.
posted by baylink at 11:30 AM on August 17, 2006

I suggest you take some shorts and a hawian shirt to work with you. If they can't control the temperature you could at least wear comfortable clothes.

As for what they did before air conditioning, they made buildings with 12 foot ceilings, thick plaster walls and they had huge windows on all sides of a building that allowed cross breezes.

This is the reason paperweights used to be so popular as gifts as offices often had a constant flow of air.
posted by Megafly at 4:07 PM on August 17, 2006

The office is absolutely, positively required to provide ice cream and nice cold drinks for everybody. It's the law. (You can tell 'em you read it on the Internet.)
posted by bink at 5:51 PM on August 17, 2006

Wow. I was an OH&S rep for the Commonwealth back in the mid-90s. One day the AC broke in our office. The internal temp hit 30oC (86oF) about 10:30am. I closed the workplace for the day. Nobody bat an eyelid. Viva sane OH&S legislation!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:45 PM on August 17, 2006

Be noisy. I worked in an office with decent A/C that suffered when the sun was too bright on one side or the other. The temps were certainly not like what you're experiencing, but people who were uncomfortable complained loudly and management was right on top of it.
posted by lhauser at 10:46 PM on August 17, 2006

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