The UK Met Office issued its first ever red warning last week as temperatures exceeded 40 degrees celsius, with many people experiencing the effects of the heatwave in their workplaces and schools.
A legal maximum working temperature does not currently exist in the workplace, as experts have explained this is ‘unrealistic’ given that each workplace is different and depends on which sector.
In this case, what are the rights of employees working in the heat?
Legal claims may be made by workers as employees do have the right to raise concerns with their employer. Employers have a responsibility to ensure the workplace environment is safe for employees and as heat is one of those elements.
Temperature is an emotive subject – everyone is affected by it in different ways. As well as the actual temperature, what seems reasonable can also be affected by air flow from air conditioning and fans. If different people prefer different amounts of air flow, it is sensible to consider if they can swap workstations.
Workplace expert ACAS has issued practical tips for employers in managing heat-related workplace challenges, reminding employers that they have health and safety obligations to their staff, encouraging businesses to follow steps to minimise the impact.
Workplace temperatures should be reasonable
HSE advice states the temperature in workplace buildings must be reasonable. Home working is included in this. Employers should seek HSE advice on how to carry out a thermal comfort risk assessment.
Keeping cool at work
Fans and air conditioners should be switched on to keep the workplace temperature cool. Blinds and curtains should be used to block out sunlight. Staff working outdoors should use sunscreen to protect themselves from sunburn as well as wear appropriate clothing.
Employers are required to provide their workers with suitable drinking water in the workplace. Employees are encouraged to drink plenty of water throughout the day for dehydration prevention, not only when they feel thirsty.
There is no obligation for employers to relax their dress code or uniform in the hot weather. Where possible, it is advisable for employers to relax rules around wearing ties or suits.
Getting into work
Staff should check in advance public transport timetables as public transport could be adversely affected by the hot weather, affecting staff attendance and punctuality. Employees should speak to their manager and discuss alternative arrangements, such as starting at a different time or working from home.
Some employees may be adversely affected by the hot weather more. This includes the elderly, pregnant women, or those on medication. To help, employers could provide more frequent rest breaks or ensure there is adequate ventilation by providing or portable air- cooling units.