As Britain’s recent heatwave shattered temperature records, the workforce was debating the same burning question. When is it too hot to work?
Although a British summer is often cause for celebration, once temperatures begin to soar into the high 20s and beyond, normal working life can leave many feeling hot under the collar. With temperatures recently reaching record-breaking highs of 39 degrees in some parts of the UK, it’s an issue that albeit rare, requires consideration by employers to ensure the safety of their workforce.
Finding the right temperature
With workplace productivity an ongoing priority for businesses, it’s important for employers to create a comfortable working environment.
It is generally accepted that most people operate best between 16 and 24 degrees, although this can vary depending on the nature of the work.
Those who are exposed to the sun and required to wear heavy protective gear are at more risk of overheating than those working in an office.
The Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers researched the working conditions of different industries and recommended that those performing heavy work in factories should operate at 13C, while those in offices work best at 20C.
The legal position
It may come as a surprise to many that the law does not specify a maximum temperature for workers, before it’s deemed too unsafe to continue.
While groups such as the Trades Union Congress have suggested 30C, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 states that temperatures inside the workplace must simply be ‘reasonable’.
When striving to achieve a ‘reasonable temperature’, there are several key factors that employers must consider, including protective clothing, physical activity and humidity.
Regulations offer protection
Despite the lack of laws, there are regulations designed to protect the wellbeing of workers.
According to the Code of Practice, employers must provide enough thermometers for staff to keep track of indoor temperatures, while providing ‘effective and sustainable’ ventilation.
While Workplace Regulations only apply to indoor offices, employers still have a duty of care towards those working outside.
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 says that personal protective equipment (PPE) must be suitable for the risks and working environment, meaning it must be designed as cool as possible.
It’s important for employers to understand the steps they can take to improve working conditions. For office-based businesses, it’s always good practice to measure the humidity, taking into consideration heat sources and dress code.
It may be worth redesigning the work area, moving people away from windows and installing fans or natural ventilation. Remember, not all indoors work will be office-based, so for those working in hotter environments such as bakeries, additional precautions must be taken.
Helping those outside
Those working outdoors face different kinds of risks, and employers must be aware of the potential dangers.
Being exposed to direct sunlight can increase the risk of heatstroke, so workers must be provided with sunscreen and hats to stay protected.
Where possible, shifts should be carefully planned to avoid sending workers out during the hottest periods of the day, allowing for regular shaded breaks with fresh water provided.
If soaring temperatures begin to affect the concentration levels of your workforce, consider working shorter days until conditions improve.
Keep cool and carry on…
While experiencing prolonged periods of extreme heat may be uncommon in the UK, it’s best practice to consider every possibility. Taking the time to improve working conditions is not only a matter of health and safety, it can also enhance productivity levels.
In the meantime, stock up on the sun cream and replenish the ice reserves – you don’t want to fall victim to the unforgiving British heatwave should it strike again!