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Feeling the heat in the workplace

Published 25 July 2016

As temperatures soared during the recent hot spell keeping cool in the workplace became the focus of attention. The recent heatwave saw temperatures of up to 33.5C (92.3F) making Britain hotter than Saudi Arabia and the Gobi Desert (1).

The hope is that there is more to come, but for many employees the scorching heat can make work extremely uncomfortable – and in one case it proved costly.

Lorry driver Graeme Woods claims he was sent home and docked a day’s wages on the hottest day of the year – for wearing shorts. Graeme said he was told it was a health and safety issue but when he looked online to see what the law says, he could not find anything (2).

Once the mercury starts to rise employers are faced with the problem of what to do to ensure workers are comfortable.

There is no maximum temperature for the workplace. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 at regulation 7 (3), in relation to the temperature in indoor workplaces, states: During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.

However, what is considered reasonable will depend on the type of workplace, as it will be very different for someone working in a glassworks in comparison to someone on a fruit and veg stall.

If a ‘significant’ number of employees complain about the heat, the law does say that it is the employer’s responsibility to carry out a risk assessment, and act if necessary.

Health and Safety Executive guidelines (4) highlight six points employers should consider during hot weather, which are: air temperature, radiant temperature (ie, the temperature radiating from warm objects), air velocity, humidity, and what clothing or insulation workers are expected to wear.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has long campaigned for employers to act to adopt cooling measures when the temperature hits 24C (75F) (5).

The TUC (5) has called for staff to be allowed to wear casual clothes, shorts and vest tops, rather than jackets or ties where appropriate, and employees working indoors should also be given access to fans, portable air conditioning units and cold drinking water.

References:

  1. UK weather: Britain is hotter than SAUDI ARABIA as country sizzles in 35C heat - and blood rain is on the way - Mirror Online [Internet]. [cited 2016 Jul 25]. Available from: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/uk-weather-britain-hotter-saudi-8450673
  2. Trucker “sent home and docked day”s WAGES’ after he turned up on hottest day of year wearing shorts - Mirror Online [Internet]. [cited 2016 Jul 25]. Available from: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/trucker-sent-home-docked-days-8465707
  3. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 [Internet]. [cited 2016 Jul 25]. Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1992/3004/regulation/7/made
  4. HSE - Temperature: What the Law says [Internet]. [cited 2016 Jul 25]. Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/law.htm
  5. Relax workplace dress codes to help staff cope with heatwave, says TUC [Internet]. TUC. 2016 [cited 2016 Jul 25]. Available from: https://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace-issues/health-and-safety/relax-workplace-dress-codes-help-staff-cope-heatwave-says-tuc

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