Working in high temperatures: how to ensure your staff are safe
If you’re reading this from the comfort of your air conditioned office, then you’re lucky. But spare a thought for the people who are working in the confines of an office without cooling or who are working outside.
For the majority of the year, the workforce in the UK has no need for air conditioning. However, come the brief summer, the UK becomes sweltering. Although the clouds have rolled in this past weekend, the current heat wave shows no signs of abating, with temperatures set to reach the high 20s in some places in the country by the end of the week.
While it’s not a legal requirement to have a cooling system in the work place, health and safety laws in the UK do encompass temperatures at work, although not in real depth. As an employer, you’re expected to deliver a working environment that is safe and does not pose a risk to an employee’s health. If there is something that poses a danger (whether a low hanging sign, a tear in the carpet, or scorching temperatures) then you must implement control measures to eradicate, or at the very least minimise, the hazard.
The Trade Unions Congress (TUC) relates that the ideal temperature to work in is between 16 and 24 degrees Celsius, depending on your profession. Heavy work in factories is ideally performed in 13 degree heat, while shifts in hospital wards and shops should be at 18 degrees and offices at 20 degrees.
Although sunny days are few and far between in the UK, when the heat does come it can bring with it serious consequences. High blood temperature can lead to heat stroke, delirium or even organ damage in extreme cases. But there is currently no law stating the maximum heat that people can work in. However, the TUC wants a maximum threshold to be brought in where workers do not have to work in temperatures that exceed 30 degrees Celsius.
As an employer you need to abide by the approved code of practice in the work place which states examples of measures that should be taken to ensure a safe working environment. These include providing cooling plants, shading windows, and selecting work places away from areas subject to radiant heat. If these actions are not effective enough, then cooling systems need to be installed. Additionally, thermometers should be provided, as well as ventilation.
For indoor jobs, introducing a relaxed dress code on hot days, fitting curtains or blinds on windows, and allowing your staff the flexibility of starting or finishing earlier or later can all help to ensure they’re comfortable and productivity is maintained.
For outdoor jobs, you should ensure that all staff members have hats and sun tan lotion and that they always have access to fresh water, regular breaks and are wearing light clothing.
It is little steps like these that ensure your staff are happy, healthy and working comfortably.
With so many responsibilities to consider, if you're an employer and would like some advice on employment law, you can find your local QualitySolicitors branch here.