• Too hot to work – when is it legally too hot to work?

    There is a widely held myth that there is a certain threshold at which it becomes too hot to work. There is no such threshold, instead the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), stipulates under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations of 1992 that employers have a responsibility to ensure that working conditions are “reasonable”, but there is no specific temperature threshold.

    So, what is reasonable?

    The official guidance states “In offices or similar environments, the temperature in workplaces must be reasonable. There’s no law for maximum working temperature, or when it’s too hot to work.

    Employers do have a responsibility for “keeping the temperature at a comfortable level, sometimes known as thermal comfort” and for “providing clean and fresh air”.

    The HSE explains that a legally binding maximum temperature cannot be set is because of the uniquely hot conditions present in certain sectors:

    “A meaningful figure cannot be given at the upper end of the scale due to the high temperatures found in, for example, glass works or foundries,” it explains.

    “In such environments it is still possible to work safely provided appropriate controls are present.

    “Factors other than air temperature, ie radiant temperature, humidity and air velocity, become more significant and the interaction between them become more complex with rising temperatures.”

    In its Information Sheet the TUC reminds us that:

    “Temperature is certainly a health and safety issue. Too much heat can cause fatigue, extra strain on the heart and lungs, dizziness and fainting, or heat cramps due to loss of water and salt. Hot, dry, air can increase the risk of eye and throat infections. Above a blood temperature of 39°C/102°F there is a risk of heat stroke; collapse can occur above 41°C/106°F with symptoms of delirium and confusion. This condition can prove fatal and survivors may suffer from organ damage. Tiredness and loss of concentration can also lead to an increased risk of accidents, such as burns.”

    Various Trade Unions have made attempts over the years to establish set guidelines on working temperature, with the Trade Union Congress (TUC) lobbying for a maximum temperature of 30C, or 27C for people doing physically strenuous work.

    The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers recommends the optimum working temperatures for various professions:

    • Heavy work in factories at 13C
    • Light work in factories at 16C
    • Hospital wards and shops at 18C
    • Offices and dining rooms at 20C

    So, what should employers do during hot weather to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their workforce?

    Our advice would be:

    1. Carry out a ‘thermal comfort risk assessment;
    2. Consult with employees on whether they are comfortable at work and if not, what measures would they like to see to help them remain cool, such as opening windows, working from home/outside, installing fans and using air conditioning if installed.
    3. Monitor the temperature in the workplace to ensure that it does not become “unreasonable;
    4. Allow employees regular breaks to sit in cooler areas, go outside and/or cool down;
    5. Ensure that employees have access to water and/or other refreshments;
    6. Consider reduced hours or even allowing employees the day off (a great morale booster!);
    7. Relaxing dress codes and providing adequate sun protection if working outside such as sun screen/hats/shade;
    8. Ensure that pregnant, menopausal, older, disabled and other employees who may be more acutely affected by hot weather are kept safe and comfortable;
    9. Allowing employees to go home if they feel unwell due to the heat and treated as usual sickness absence.

    Employers have an overarching duty to ensure that their workplace is safe and the health and safety of employees is protected. Given this it is vital that employers monitor the temperature of the workplace in the same way it would any other risk to health during any period of hot weather.

    For advice on ensuring your employees are safe during hot weather please contact Zoe on 0203 8587965 or email zoe@mulberryssolicitors.com

    This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

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