With the UK currently being gripped by a heatwave and the temperature reaching scorching levels, it can be too hot to handle for employees whose workplace has become overheated. Unusually-high temperatures can have a detrimental effect on our working life, causing various health problems if heat exhaustion occurs.
However, despite the efforts of trades union the TUC to improve workers’ rights, there still isn’t a maximum temperature limit set in stone at the workplace. This means it is largely down to the individual employer’s discretion whether employees can leave work early if it becomes unbearably hot.
What are the effects of excess heat?
As the temperature rises in the workplace, employees may begin to feel increasingly irritable. They are likely to suffer a loss of concentration, leading to an inability to do mental tasks. They will also become unable to carryout skilled duties or heavy work.
If the excess heat continues, they may start to experience heat exhaustion. The symptoms include weakness, dizziness, visual disturbances, feelings of intense heat and thirst, nausea and vomiting. This can occur when people are subject to a constant temperature of more than 30°C.
If continual exposure to excess heat occurs, the effects can be more serious, with a rise in body temperature resulting in illnesses such as breathlessness, fainting, palpitations and tingling in the feet and hands.
What should employers do?
It is the employer’s responsibility to manage the workplace temperature to ensure it is comfortable and safe for everyone. During extremely hot weather, and in jobs where excess heat is expected, such as bakeries, steel mills, glass factories and other continually hot environments, the employer must take extra steps to ensure employee safety.
Suitable air conditioning should be installed, while desk, pedestal or ceiling-mounted fans should also be provided if necessary. Make sure the windows can be opened and shade the workforce from direct sunlight through the use of blinds, or a reflective film on the windows.
Do not position workstations in direct sunlight or near other objects that radiate heat, such as machinery. In exceptionally hot weather, formal dress code can be relaxed – however, personal protective equipment must be worn for safety reasons where necessary.
Allow employees to take breaks to get cold drinks, or simply to cool down. Provide extra facilities such as cold water dispensers and place insulating material around hot pipes and machinery.
Do employees have any rights?
The TUC is aiming to make it illegal for employees to be kept at work indoors if the temperature rises higher than 30°C. The trades union also requires more protection to be put in place for outdoor workers, or for those who drive for a living.
This hasn’t become law at the moment. There is legislation in place that permits employees to leave an office if it’s too hot, but the official maximum temperature has not been set, so it’s down to the employer’s discretion.
The law says the employer must provide a working environment that is safe, practical and doesn’t present risks to health. The employer must assess risks and bring in preventative measures, should any risks be found.
In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive provides the regulatory framework for workplaces. However, the body says it’s difficult to put in place a “meaningful” figure in terms of temperature because of workplaces that have continually high temperatures, such as glass works or foundries.
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 stipulate that the indoor workplace temperature should be “reasonable” during working hours. Employers must also provide “clean, fresh air”, according to the regulations.
As there’s no official upper limit for the temperature, employees can push to get action taken when people feel it’s uncomfortable. If employees complain, the employer must act upon this by carrying out a risk assessment, responding to the results of the assessment.
GREE UK has a reputation for providing outstanding air conditioning solutions for business premises. Our experience in supplying innovative technology and a large selection of air conditioning solutions, supported by professional installation, maintenance and service, makes us an industry leader.
Don’t let your workforce suffer in extreme heat – contact us today for information on our range of products and services.