With summer temperatures soaring to the highest levels since 1976, employers should be thinking about how they should manage the workplace environment to keep their workers in the best conditions possible.
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. The recommended minimum for an office is 16⁰C, or 13⁰C if the workplace involves a considerable amount of physical activity. Perhaps surprisingly it does not specify the maximum temperature that an office or other workplace should be, and this is due to the hot conditions found in some factory environments.
In 2013 the TUC called for a legal upper limit on the temperature of a workplace, which they proposed should be 30⁰C or 27⁰C in a workplace which involves a considerable amount of physical activity. They suggested that if the temperature breaches this then employees should be sent home from the workplace and if this doesn’t happen the employer should be prosecuted. This was not implemented in law so in practice staff are only able to go home if they become unwell due to high temperatures.
This does not mean that the workplace should be allowed to be uncomfortably hot, as this will lead to staff complaining about the heat and not achieving as much work as they would usually be able to do. This of course means that employers should keep temperatures as close to normal levels as possible.
So what can employers do to improve conditions?
An obvious solution to a hot workplace is to install air conditioning in rooms which get particularly hot. This may of course not be practical in all cases, whether due to cost or other reasons so the next best alternative is to provide workers with fans and plenty of drinking water. Opening windows may not always be the best answer and blinds may be more effective at keeping the temperature down if direct sunlight can be removed.
Another way of controlling how staff feel in the workplace environment is to check the humidity levels of the air. This can be done if a special thermometer is installed to check humidity as well as temperature. The most comfortable humidity to work in is between 40% and 70%. Too low leaves people feeling dry and thirsty, while too high promotes a sweaty atmosphere.
During the heat of the summer, some employers allow workers to wear different clothes to work. This isn’t obligatory, but can make a big difference to comfort levels. We wouldn’t suggest this means allowing your staff to come to work in beachwear; it could just be small differences such as not having to wear a jacket or suit and tie. If you choose to allow sensible adjustments you should make sure that rules are set so that appropriate clothing is still worn. It goes without saying that personal protective equipment (hard hats, overalls etc) should still be up to the job of maintaining 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 for example to medical reasons, age, religious traditions or if someone is pregnant.
These workers can be helped by being given extra rest breaks, a fan or having their working hours temporarily changed until working conditions are back to normal. Some religions require fasting, for example Muslims observing Ramadan. In these cases, where possible they could be given more flexible hours during the period of fasting.
If you have any questions about your workplace environment, whether heat related or any other, then contact us today for a free initial consultation with one of our expert employment solicitors.
The Backhouse Solicitors Team
Tel: 01245 893400