Coping with the heat – An employer’s guide to rising workplace temperatures

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With the prospect of warm weather finally coming to the UK, we thought we would provide some guidance to employers so they understand their responsibilities in relation to staff and rising workplace temperatures.

There is a common misconception that the law currently provides a maximum workplace temperature, above which staff may be sent home but this is not the case.  There is no maximum or minimum temperature but employers should make preparations to ensure staff are comfortable during extreme temperatures.

The law is vague on this but it does state that during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be ‘reasonable’. The Health & Safety Executive has previously defined thermal comfort as roughly between 13°C (55°F) and 30°C (86°F).

While the law may not be clear cut it makes sense for firms to put measures in place to combat extreme heat. Not doing so can lead to disruption among employees and create unnecessary friction.  Our top tips are:

Consider the work environment:

  • It is a good idea to look at purchasing fans to help circulate the air
  • Look at whether office furniture can be moved to enable better air circulation.
  • Think about whether all the office equipment, like photocopiers and computers which generate heat, have to be left switched on.
  • Make sure people have access to drinks facilities
  • Look at ways to reduce the amount of glare on people’s computer screens, by facing them away from light sources or providing screen shades.
  • If your employees work outside make sure they stay hydrated and use sunscreen
Consider relaxing the dress code
  • Allowing shorts or short sleeve shirts, is also an easy way to help staff remain comfortable and productive in the heat.  You need to be clear about standards, for example in a job which requires lifting and carrying or driving you may wish to impose a no flip-flops rule due to health and safety risks.
Consider allowing people to work flexibly
  • Allow people to change their start and finish time so they do not have to travel at peak times in the heat
  • Allow for more frequent or longer breaks
  • If employees are working outside consider if they can undertake tasks inside at midday

These measures may not be enough however, and staff may flood management with complaints about discomfort caused by the heat.  In these cases the HSE recommends undertaking a risk assessment. A thermal comfort risk assessment should be carried out if 10% of staff in air-conditioned workplaces, 15% in naturally ventilated offices or 20% in business warehouses and factories complain of workplace discomfort.

Ideally employers should consult with their workforce early, take note of any causes of discomfort and take any action that can reduce discomfort caused by extreme workplace temperatures.  By making a genuine effort to create a comfortable working atmosphere in extreme temperatures, employers can put the welfare of their staff first and avoid hot tempers flaring up during the hot weather.

For further guidance or support, get in touch with the HPC team today.

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