What employers should do during a heatwave

24th July 2019

Temperature records could be broken this week, with those for hottest day in July and even hottest single day on record under threat.

For those going on holiday, this might sound rather appealing (potential harbingers for climate change notwithstanding). However, what of those of us who are stuck at work this week? Is an employer obligated to keep the temperature below a certain level? And what are their obligations to employees who are particularly vulnerable to extreme heat in the workplace?

Hannah Parsons, Head of Legal Advice at DAS Law, gives the lowdown on what employers and employees need to know.

Does an employer have to keep the office cool?

There is no law that sets a maximum temperature in a workplace. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 simply say that the temperature should be ‘reasonable’.

What is reasonable will vary according to the type of workplace, although there have been attempts to put pressure on the government to set a maximum working temperature.

The TUC called for the introduction of an upper limit of 24°C, at which point an employer would be required to take action, with an absolute maximum of 27°C, above which workers would not have to continue working and an employer would be liable for prosecution.

They have based their thinking on the WHO recommendation which is that 24°C is the maximum temperature for working in comfort.

However, that pressure has not resulted in any regulatory change, so employees who feel that their workplace is too warm should bring it to the attention of their employers, who should then consider what steps can and should be taken to address the issue.

So what should employers do?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests that an employer should monitor the ‘thermal comfort’ levels of employees, which describes their state of mind as to whether they feel too hot or cold. If there is an issue in relation to the thermal comfort of staff, an employer should consider carrying out a risk assessment of the workplace.

Additional steps should be taken for employees who are:

  • Pregnant;
  • Suffering from conditions; or
  • Taking medication particularly affected by temperature fluctuations.

For these categories of employee, care should be taken in the form of specific risk assessments, with adjustments to working conditions or practices made where appropriate.

The TUC have also offered advice on what employers can do to limit the negative effects of the heatwave on their staff. They suggest a variety of extra measures to keep workers cool and hydrated, from temporarily relaxing the dresscode to making fans and a steady supply of cold drinks available.

Where possible, they also recommend allowing flexible working, helping staff avoid the discomfort of a crowded and oppressively warm train or bus by arriving early or working late and avoiding peak commuting times.

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.

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