Every winter we update our advice to employers on coping with bad weather.  However, with parts of the country experiencing the highest temperatures ever recorded and more heatwaves to come, what procedures and policies should you as an employer be putting in place for your business and staff?

The Legal Position

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations of 1992, say that an employer needs to maintain a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace, with a recommended of 16⁰C. (or 13⁰C if the workplace involves a considerable amount of physical activity).  The regulations don’t however specify a maximum temperature, only that temperatures should be reasonable.

It goes without saying that if the workplace becomes uncomfortably hot, it could lead to staff complaining about the heat and not achieving their normal level of work.

Practical steps to improve conditions

Opening windows may not always be the best answer if there is no airflow or it is hotter outside.  An obvious solution is to install air conditioning throughout the building or in rooms and offices which get particularly hot.  This may of course not be practical in some cases, whether due to cost or other reasons.  The next best alternative solution is to provide workers with fans and plenty of drinking water.  Preventing direct sunlight by keeping blinds closed will also help reduce the temperature.

Another way of improving the feel of hot conditions is to optimise the humidity level of the air.  This can be checked using a special thermometer that reads the humidity as well as temperature.  The most comfortable humidity level to work in is between 40% – 70%.  Too low can result in staff feeling dry and thirsty, while too high promotes a sweaty atmosphere.  Using a de-humidifier in the office can help achieve the ideal humidity levels.

For employees that work outside, you could consider where possible adjusting their working schedules to cooler times of the day.  While adjusted schedules are not always possible, perhaps due to restrictions set by planning laws or the impact on the surrounding community, you should provide somewhere cooler where outdoor workers can take breaks to escape the heat.

Dress Codes

Throughout the summer, and especially during a heat wave, some employers allow workers to wear alternative clothes to work to help keep them cool.  This is not obligatory but can make a significant difference to comfort levels of staff.  While we wouldn’t suggest allowing staff to come to work in beachwear or items that may be deemed too revealing, common sense changes such as not having to wear a jacket, or suit and tie might be appropriate.

If you choose to allow temporary, sensible adjustments during these hot times, rules and guidelines should be communicated clearly to staff.  It goes without saying that personal protective equipment (hard hats, overalls etc) should still be worn to maintain safety in potentially dangerous environments.

Allowances for vulnerable workers

Some workers may not be able to cope with the heat as well as others.  This could be due to medical reasons, age, religious traditions, or pregnancy.  For these members of staff, you may consider further adjustment such giving extra rest breaks, a desk fan or having their working hours altered temporarily until working conditions are back to a normal and comfortable temperature.

Contact Backhouse Solicitors for further help and advice

If you have any questions about your workplace environment, whether temperature-related or otherwise, our team of friendly employment law solicitors is here to help.  Contact us today to arrange your free 30 minute consultation.

Tel:          01245 893400
Email:     [email protected]
Visit:       17 Duke Street, Chelmsford, CM1 1JU
Or send us a message through the Contact Us page on this website.