This heatwave is great! It would be even better if we were sat in our gardens with our feet in the paddling pool as opposed to working through it! It’s fair to say most us are enjoying the weather; however, with temperatures anticipated to reach approximately 33C and continue late into July, we have to ask ourselves; “is it too hot to work?”
Here in the UK, our workplace temperatures are covered (loosely) by the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992, which place a legal obligation on employers to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace. Which begs the question, what is a ‘reasonable’ temperature?
The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers recommends the following temperatures.
Heavy work in factories: 13°C
Light work in factories: 16°C
Hospital wards and shops: 18°C
Offices and dining rooms: 20°C
The key word here is “recommends”. The Approved Code of Practice to the Workplace Regs is in line with the above, however there is no legal minimum or maximum temperature. In fact, there is no guidance or recommendation as to what the maximum temperature should be! This means we are left with the discretion of our Employers and the appointed competent person for the business.
So, what else does the law say about working in these conditions? Unfortunately, not much. All Employers have a legal duty to ensure the health, safety & welfare of it’s employees, this of course includes providing a safe and healthy workplace, as well as assessing all hazards (all the issues we face that could cause us physical or psychological harm), therefore including temperature in risk assessments is imperative, especially if your workplace is outdoors!
As H&S Advisors (and Employees may we add), it can be difficult to get the balance exactly right so that business can continue, without Employees collapsing of heat stroke. Currently, Employers are expected to make “reasonable adjustments” for the workforce, this can include relaxing the rules for workwear, e.g. allowing looser, lightweight clothing to be worn (so long as this doesn’t create an additional hazard or increase the risk to the employee’s health & safety), more frequent rest breaks (as needed) and access to cold drinking water. Provision of isotonic drinks may be deemed necessary, depending on what work you do.
Additional measures may be needed for vulnerable employees, such as pregnant, young, older or those on medication.
The TUC is pushing for stricter rules regarding workplace temperature and wants a maximum temperature to be imposed on Employers. They have called for a maximum workplace temperature to be set at 27C for physically demanding jobs and 30C for non-physical work; which would mean you’d automatically get sent home when the bulb hits these temperatures. They also believe that workers who are outside for long durations should be given more breaks and water.
As much as we would like to see some additional measures put in place for these situations, we like to believe that we are fairly reasonable H&S practitioners and appreciate that business must still run; maybe we should adopt our neighbours policy and introduce a reduction in work during those peak times?
Remember, risk assessments and procedures are not set in stone, they need to be amended accordingly to take account of new or additional hazards. If you’re having any issues with how to manage the risks associated with this heat, get in touch. We’d be happy to advise (in an air-conditioned room of course).