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Some like it hot (or not). What should employers do during a heatwave?

When the mercury rises, employers should consider the risks for their workers.

As a starting point, being too hot can lead to loss of concentration and tiredness. Along with the obvious negative impact on productivity, this could put workers or others at risk.

As temperatures rise further, so do the risks: including dizziness and heat stroke, and even fatalities.

Some workers may be at higher risk, such as those who are pregnant, or have certain medical conditions.

Is there a maximum workplace temperature?

There is no set maximum temperature for indoor or outdoor work.

However, for indoor workspaces, temperatures must be ‘reasonable’. What is reasonable will vary with the work being done and the work environment.

The TUC has called for a legal maximum indoor working temperature of 30°C, or 27°C for strenuous work. Generally though, the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers recommends much lower 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.

Even without a set maximum, employers have a general duty, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure the health and safety of workers. Employers need to comply with health and safety at work law, including keeping the temperature at a comfortable level and providing clean and fresh air.

Assessing the risks

Assess the potential risks from high temperatures, and the risk of skin cancer due to sun exposure. Think about the air temperature, but also, for example:

  • Humidity
  • Air velocity
  • Radiant temperature – such as heat from the sun, fire, electric fires, ovens, cookers, dryers, hot surfaces, machinery
  • Work rate / metabolic heat
  • Impact of protective clothing
  • Glass buildings which carry direct sunlight
  • Ventilation
  • Physical work demands.

Practical steps

Dress codes can be a contentious issue in the heat. If you are relaxing your usual dress code, think about the potential for discrimination – for example, if a woman can wear a smart dress without tights, would it be discriminatory not to allow a man to wear smart shorts and a short-sleeved shirt?

Protective clothing that is required for health and safety should be designed, as far as possible, with variations in temperature in mind.

Our online HR and employment law site, Workbox, includes detailed advice on dress codes, along with an example dress code policy.

Indoors, think about, for example:

  • Shading windows
  • Reducing heat from machinery or computers
  • Siting workstations away from direct sunlight
  • Appropriate air conditioning, ventilation or fans.

For outdoor workers, think about:

  • Encouraging the use of sunscreen and appropriate clothing (such as hats)
  • Providing guidance on the risks of sun exposure
  • Can work be carried out at cooler times of the day?
  • Is there a way to provide shade?

For all workers, ensure they have access to adequate drinking water, and consider whether additional breaks, flexible working, or job rotation is appropriate. It will very much depend on your work environment, but for some employers, it will make sense to have a policy for managing working conditions during warm weather.

If hot weather leads to travel disruption, some of the same considerations will apply as regards winter travel, which we discussed in our earlier blog: Adverse weather and travel: where do employers stand?

If you need advice, please get in touch with your usual Brodies contact.

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