Although hot British weather is often a cause for celebration, once temperatures begin to soar into the high 20s and beyond, normal working life can leave many feeling hot under the collar.
It may be a rare issue for UK-based business, but it’s one that still requires consideration by employers to ensure the safety of their workforce.
Instead of turning a blind eye to the situation and assuming the wellbeing of staff during exceptionally hot periods, it is crucial that steps are taken to mitigate the risks, allowing workers to complete tasks without affecting their health.
Finding the right temperature
With workplace productivity an ongoing priority for businesses, it’s important for employers to create a comfortable working environment that allows staff to remain focussed throughout the day.
When it comes to controlling the temperature, it is generally accepted that most people operate best between 16 and 24 degrees, although this can vary depending on the nature of the work.
Of course, those who are exposed to the sun and are required to wear heavy protective gear are at more risk of overheating than those working in an air-conditioned office for eight hours per day.
The Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers researched the working conditions of different industries and recommended that those performing heavy work in factories should operate at 13C, while at the other end of the scale, those in offices and dining rooms work best at 20C.
While it’s not always possible to maintain such a specific temperature, straying too far from these recommended conditions can become a health and safety issue.
The legal position
It may come as a surprise to many that the law does not currently specify a maximum temperature for workers, before it’s deemed too unsafe to continue.
While groups such as the Trades Union Congress have suggested 30C (27C for those completing strenuous work), the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 states that temperatures inside the workplace must simply be ‘reasonable’.
This idea is supported by the Approved Code of Practice to the Workplace Regulations, which says ‘all reasonable steps should be taken to achieve a comfortable temperature’.
When striving to achieve a ‘reasonable temperature’, there are several key factors that employers must consider, including protective clothing, physical activity, humidity, hours worked and radiant heat.
Regulations offer protection
While there may not be laws that dictate when it’s too hot to continue working, there are regulations designed to protect the wellbeing of workers.
According to the Code of Practice, employers must provide enough thermometers for staff to keep track of indoor temperatures, while providing ‘effective and sustainable’ ventilation – not just opening a few windows.
While Workplace Regulations only apply to indoor offices, employers still have a duty of care towards those working outside and must ensure their health is not negatively impacted.
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 says that personal protective equipment (PPE) must be suitable for the risks and working environment, meaning it must be designed as cool as possible.
Other regulations such as the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 requires employers to consider other factors including hot and humid conditions, while the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 relates specifically to the increased risks faced by pregnant women.
With all this in mind, it’s important for employers to understand the steps they can take to improve working conditions, indoors and outdoors. For office-based businesses, it’s always good practice to measure the humidity, taking into consideration heat sources and dress code, which could make working more uncomfortable.
It may be worth redesigning the work area, moving people away from windows and installing fans or natural ventilation to help workers feel cooler.
Remember, not all indoors work will be office-based, so for those working in hotter environments such as bakeries or laundry rooms, additional precautions must be taken to ensure staff are not put at risk of dehydration.
Helping those outside
Those working outdoors face different kinds of risks to those inside, and employers must be aware of the potential dangers.
Being exposed to direct sunlight can increase the risk of heatstroke and other more sinister diseases like skin cancer, so all workers should be provided with sunscreen and hats to stay protected.
Where possible, shifts should be carefully planned to avoid sending workers out during the hottest periods of the day, allowing for regular shaded breaks with fresh water provided to keep hydrated.
If soaring temperatures begin to affect the concentration and energy levels of your workforce, consider working shorter days until conditions become more manageable.
Keep cool and carry on…
While experiencing prolonged periods of extreme heat may be uncommon in the UK, it’s best practice to consider every possibility and be prepared should the temperatures soar.
Although there are no specific laws forcing staff to send workers home, strict regulations are in place to ensure the wellbeing of staff is not neglected, and employers are expected to adhere to these.
Taking the time to improve working conditions is not only a matter of health and safety, but it can also enhance productivity levels, helping staff remain focussed despite the heat.
Where flexible working can be accommodated and normal office rules relaxed, it’s always advisable for the safety of your workforce to allow this.
If you’d like more advice on how to mitigate the risks presented by hot weather working, contact a team of experienced legal professionals and ensure you meet the regulations outlined.
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