With a second heatwave predicted to hit the UK at the end of July, we’re taking a look at what you need to know when it feels like it’s too hot to work…
Whilst the scorching heat at the start of the month seems like a distant memory, early reports predict that we will see a second heatwave across the UK at the end of July and into August. This might have you wondering what your obligations are as an employer when it feels like it’s too hot to work – and that’s exactly what we’re here to tell you.
The first thing that you need to know is that there is no legal minimum or maximum temperature for the workplace. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that the temperature in all indoor workplaces should ‘provide reasonable comfort’; however, it should go without saying that what is reasonable for one business may not be appropriate for another.
Whilst there is no legal standard on working temperatures the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Approved Code of Practice provides some guidance. The code defines a reasonable minimum temperature for indoors working as 16°C, or 13°C if strenuous physical work is involved. There is no set upper temperature guideline but the code also states that an “acceptable zone of thermal comfort” is between 13°C and 30°C.
So how should you handle complaints from your employees about their working conditions when the temperature heats up again this summer?
Carry out a thermal comfort risk assessment. The HSE recommends conducting a risk assessment if:
- More than 10% of employees complain in an air-conditioned office.
- More than 15% of employees complain in a naturally ventilated office.
- More than 20% of employees complain in retail businesses, warehouses or factories.
Should any of the above apply to your business then the HSE advises that you consult with your employees, evaluate any risks posed and take the appropriate action.
There are several actions you can take to reduce the level of discomfort caused by working indoors during hot weather. As well as taking the simple steps of closing the blinds, opening the windows or turning on the air conditioning, you may want to consider installing fans, ensuring that there is a good supply of drinking water or even rearranging your workstations so that your employees are away from direct sunlight.
Another element to consider is your organisation’s dress code. If your workplace requires your employees to wear safety equipment at all times then there is no room for compromise. In this case you should ensure that your employees take regular breaks and stay as cool and hydrated as possible.
If your business has a formal dress code you can afford to be more lenient; however, it is important to establish rules around what exactly is appropriate for your workplace. Whilst rules around ties or jackets may be relaxed you might want to specify that it would be inappropriate for your employees to turn up to work in shorts or extremely short skirts.
The heatwave may well push the temperature beyond the 30°C HSE guideline, but it will no doubt be as fleeting as any other aspect of the British summer. Regardless, it is no less important to make sure that your employees are working in as safe and comfortable an environment as possible.