With Britain in the midst of a heatwave, with the potential for the hottest June days since the seventies, Public Health England has issued a health warning to look out for instances of heat exhaustion, heatstroke, dehydration and overheating.
This isn’t just a worry on the beach but in the workplace too.
Current UK workplace regulations state that employers must act when the temperature dips below 16⁰C; however, there is no maximum temperature.
We are expecting temperatures of 33⁰C this week so, given the lack of regulations, here is a guide for employers on how to beat the heat.
Peter Ames, Head of Strategy at OfficeGenie.co.uk, said: “While there are no specific guidelines on when it is too hot to work, there are a number of regulations employers and employees alike need to be aware of as the mercury rises.
“For employers, it is your responsibility to do everything you can to ensure the safety and comfort of your employees. This could be anything from bringing in fans to instigating a work-from-home policy. If temperatures do become uncomfortable and you do not act, you could be at risk of legal action.
“For employees, with no temperature guidance at the top end, you have the power to force changes. If temperatures genuinely are uncomfortable, and a significant swathe of the workforce do complain, employers simply have to act.”
Existing Regulations and What Employers Should Be Aware of:
- Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state an indoor workplace should be a minimum of 16⁰C, or 13⁰C if work involves considerable physical exercise.
- Regulation 7: “During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.”
- Associated Approved Code of Practice: “The temperature in workrooms should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing. Where such a temperature is impractical because of hot or cold processes, all reasonable steps should be taken to achieve a temperature which is as close as possible to comfortable.”
- There is no guideline temperature given at the top end.
- Health and Safety Executive (HSE): “an acceptable zone of thermal comfort for most people in the UK lies roughly between 13°C (56°F) and 30°C (86°F)”
- HSE: “A meaningful figure cannot be given at the upper end of the scale. This is because there are factors other than air temperature that determine thermal comfort.”
- Workplace Regulations, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999: Employers are obliged to assess risks to health and safety – act where necessary (i.e. if the workplace drops below the minimum guideline or if it is felt the temperature is too high).
When to Act:
Employers are advised that a thermal risk assessment may be necessary in the following circumstances:
- Air-conditioned offices: If more than 10% of employees are complaining
- Naturally ventilated offices: If more than 15% of employees are complaining
- Retail businesses, warehouses, factories and all other indoor environments that may not have air conditioning: When more than 20% of people complain
Steps to Take:
If the thermal risk assessment shows heat to be a risk to health and safety in the workplace, the following steps are advised by HSE:
- Control temperature using fans or air conditioning
- Provide mechanical aids to reduce employee work rate
- Prevent exposure through:
- allowing workers into the workplace in cooler parts of the day
- issuing permits to specify how long workers spend in high-risk situations
- providing rest breaks
- ensuring rest areas provide cooler conditions
- Prevent dehydration by supplying access to cold water
- Relax dress codes to increase employee comfort
- Provide specialised personal protective equipment designed for comfort in hot conditions
All employers are also advised the following steps are good practice in creating a low-risk workplace:
- Insulate hot-water pipes
- Provide air conditioning and fans, especially in hot weather
- Ensure all windows can be opened
- Keep workstations out of direct sunlight and away from sources of heat
- Identify employees at greatest risk
- Train workers to be able to identify symptoms of heat stress and appropriate solutions
- Provide sufficient thermometers to evaluate temperature throughout the workplace