UK is currently enjoying high temperatures; and whilst there is no law for a minimum or maximum workplace temperature, there is an approved Code of Practice and guidance by the Health and Safety Executive which provides practical guidance to employers. It is based on the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
It is important that employers are aware of the risks that can come about because of high temperatures, such as heat stress and put in place appropriate measures to manage those risks. Extreme heat is dangerous, for those who may be vulnerable, such as pregnant employees, those on certain medications, as well as older employees.
Employers must help employees to feel comfortable in their work environment during periods of high temperatures. The effects of heat stress are serious, as it can lead to heat rash, severe thirst (a late symptom of heat stress), fainting, and heat exhaustion – fatigue, nausea, and headaches. For some workplaces, employees may be tempted to not wear the correct PPE such as hi-vis jackets/vests, hats, goggles, or gloves because of the heat, however, keeping standards high is important.
A key tool for managing heat stress in the workplace is the risk assessment. This tool should be used where you consider employee’s work rate, the working climate and employee clothing and respiratory protective equipment. When assessing the risks, it is important to engage with your employees (or their representatives) to understand the effect of the heat may have on them, and to most importantly, detect early signs of heat stress.
Extreme weather can also negatively impact on employees when at work, and you may see a decline in productivity levels or even sickness absence. Employers can help both from a health perspective and helping employees to manage their roles. For example:
- Allowing employees to change their working hours to cooler times of the day
- Flex your usual dress code policy
- Encourage the use of video conference calls over attending visits for meetings
- Provide more frequent rest breaks
- Allowing any last-minute annual leave requests
- Ensure there is a sufficient supply of water
- Manage air conditioning appropriately
- Make the best use of fans and open windows and doors
These are just a few examples, and it will depend on the nature of the business and the type of job role the employee undertakes, as well as any special considerations such as pregnancy and underlying health conditions.