Is it too hot to work? How to manage heat in the workplace
In July parts of the UK hit temperatures of 40.3 degrees, breaking records. The Met Office have shown UK temperature records since 1884 and it shows that the warmest years have been over the last two decades, meaning the increased temperatures are likely to be an issue for employers for many summers to come.
The excessive temperatures caused fires and resulted in the UK’s first ever red travel warning due to the extreme heat. So, as the temperatures are set to rise this summer, what can you do as employers to keep your employees cool in the heat and what does the law say on employees’ rights in the hot weather?
The law on heat in the workplace:
As the heatwave swept the UK, everyone was asking ‘is it too hot to work?’ ‘Is there a working temperature limit’ – the answer is no for hot weather. The regulations in place just state a legal obligation on employers to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace – there is a minimum working temperature of 16 degrees or 13 degrees if the work is strenuous but currently no statutory upper limit.
The approved code of practice is silent on the matter of ‘how hot is too hot’ but does advise all employers to take all reasonable steps to achieve a reasonably comfortable temperature.
There is however a proposal to introduce legislation that suggests a maximum workplace temperature of 30 degrees or 27 degrees where employers are undertaking physical activity – this same suggestion was however made in 2013 to MP’s and unions but it was not introduced.
The reason there is no maximum temperature is because workplaces with hot processes such as bakeries would not be able to comply with this regulation. Bakeries and foundries for example use other measures to control the effects of temperature, it is suggested then, that these other measures should also be used to manage the risk of working outdoors in a hot environment.
Keeping your workplace an acceptable temperature: inside and outside working:
As employers you have a clear and legal duty to provide your employees with a safe and healthy working environment - this could even mean conducting a risk assessment to determine the extent of the problem, whether that be for hot or cold weather.
We have collated a list of the best ways to manage heat in the workplace whether your workplace is inside or outside:
• Sufficient space in work rooms/offices
• Provide good ventilation - ensure windows can be opened
• Use blinds or reflective film on windows to reduce the effects of the sun
• Provide desk, pedestal, or ceiling-mounted fans
• Aircon if possible, to control the temperature or temporary cooling units
• Replace workstations to be away from direct sunlight
• Relax dress code e.g., heavy uniforms (don’t change PPE requirements)
• More breaks to get cold drinks
• Cool rest facilities e.g., in a different room/place
• Cold water dispensers
• Fridge/freezer facilities
• Supply hats and neck protection
• Supply sunscreen with high protection
• Frequent breaks
• Free cold drinks
• Clothing to be cotton and loose fitting
• Increased risk of sunstroke, sunburn, and heat exhaustion if work is physically strenuous leading to skin cancer, heat stress
We also recommend allowing where possible more flexible working, especially for those with long public transport commutes.
It can be physically and mentally exhausting in extreme weather and allowing your employees to work from home, alter their working hours, take time off in lieu or allowing your employees to take these days as holiday.
Being more accommodating during these times will be beneficial for your employees but also in the long term for you as an employer as it is proven to build a more supportive and loyal relationship between employee and employer if they are accommodating and caring in this manner.
Protecting your employees:
It is important as an employer to give additional consideration to staff who have special requirements such as staff that are disabled, have a health condition such as asthma, those going through the menopause, people taking medication and those who are pregnant as they are more vulnerable in the heat and additional measures should be made. As their employer, you should be checking and asking if they need any further changes to make working in the heat manageable.
Although you may assume those working from home are fine, you must also check on these members of staff as usually, they do not have the same options for the weather changes as those in the office e.g., fan, heater, aircon etc.
Key points for employers:
As an employer, it is your legal obligation to undertake a risk assessment of health and safety risks to employees of which temperature in the workplace would be considered a hazard.
If you do not have an extreme weather policy or procedure in place, now is the time to develop one as having clear plans in place will help you prepare for any possible difficulties whilst also informing your employees of what is expected of them in these situations.
If you’d like further information on Extreme Weather Policies or have any further queries about managing heat in the workplace, please contact us at 01455 444222 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and one of our expert HR advisors will be happy to discuss this with you.