With the UK experiencing scorching temperatures on some days last year and with hotter summers predicted, it's essential that employers take steps to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff. As an employee, you have the right to work in a safe and comfortable environment, which includes reasonable working temperatures.
While there is currently no legal maximum temperature for workplaces, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that employers maintain "reasonable" temperatures to prevent heat stress, dehydration, and other heat-related illnesses. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called for the introduction of a maximum working temperature of 30ºC, and 27ºC for those performing strenuous activities.
If you're working in high temperatures, your employer should conduct a suitable risk assessment, taking into account the temperature of the workplace. The Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 requires employers to identify and evaluate potential hazards and take steps to prevent harm.
As an employee, you do not have the right to refuse to work because of high temperatures, unless you're ill and need to take sick leave. However, your employer has a duty of care to protect your health and safety, and they should take steps to mitigate the risks posed by high temperatures.
So, what can employers do to support their staff during heatwaves?
Allow flexible working arrangements
Employers can introduce flexible working arrangements such as staggered working hours, reduced hours, or remote working to avoid the hottest periods of the day. By doing so, employers can help to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses and improve staff productivity and wellbeing.
Relax dress codes
Employers can relax their dress codes to allow staff to wear cooler and more comfortable clothing during hot weather. However, employers should remind their staff to dress appropriately and avoid wearing vests or flip flops to maintain a professional appearance.
Provide cool drinks and ice cream
Employers can provide cool drinks, ice cream, and other refreshments to help their staff stay hydrated and cool. This will help to prevent dehydration, heat exhaustion, and other heat-related illnesses.
Provide a cool and shaded working environment
Employers can provide a cool and shaded working environment by installing air conditioning or fans, providing shaded areas, and ensuring that the workplace is well ventilated. This will help to maintain a comfortable working temperature and reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses.
Therefore, while there is no legal maximum temperature for workplaces, employers have a duty of care to protect their staff from the risks posed by high temperatures. By taking simple steps such as introducing flexible working arrangements, relaxing dress codes, and providing cool drinks and a shaded working environment, employers can help to support their staff during heatwaves and promote their health and wellbeing. If you're an employee concerned about working in high temperatures, speak to your employer or seek advice from an employment law specialist.