How hot is too hot to work?

It doesn’t happen often, but when the country swelters in rising temperatures, it’s not everyone’s idea of fun.

Hot weather is great if you are lying on a beach or in your back garden, but not necessarily in the workplace. The Chartered Institute of Building Services have recommended the following temperatures:

Heavy work in factories: 13°c
Light work in factories: 16°c
Hospital wards and shops: 18°c
Offices and dining rooms: 20°c
Temperatures that differ substantially from this can pose a health and safety risk on the employee. When the workplace gets too hot it is more than just an issue of comfort. If employees get too hot, they risk dizziness, fainting and even heat cramps. High temperatures also mean that there is an increase in the likelihood of workplace accidents due to reduced concentration; slippery, sweaty palms, as well as an increase of discomfort of personal protective gear which can result in reduced protection through inappropriate usage or non-usage.

Employees at greater risk of heat stress include those over the age of 65, those who have medical conditions such as, obesity, high blood pressure or heart diseases and those that take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.

Legal position

The law says that an employer must provide a working environment which is as far as reasonably practical, safe and without risks to health. As well as this, employers should assess risks and introduce any necessary prevention or control measures.

There is no maximum temperature for workers, although the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations state the temperature inside workplace buildings must be ‘reasonable.’ However, there is no consensus over what “reasonable” is and many workers are forced to work in temperatures which are not only uncomfortable, but which could damage their health.

The lack of legal maximum has been seen as a major problem. The Approved Code of Practice does set a minimum temperature along with guidance on how it can be achieved, however, no maximum. Because of this, health and safety representatives often find that employers refuse to accept arguments that they have to take action on high temperatures, yet, far more inclined to take action when it gets too cold.

The Approved Code of Practice sets out a few examples of what action employers can take to ensure a reasonably comfortable temperature when working, including:

insulating hot plants or pipes
providing air cooling plants
shading windows
sighting workplaces away from places subject to radiant heat

If this fails, the Code of Practice states further that employers should install cooling systems, increase ventilation or install fans.

What next?

While these regulations provide some guidance for employers, the lack of guidelines may well be exposing employees to a higher risk of heat stress.

In conclusion, it would appear that by maintaining a comfortable temperature in the work place will benefit both the employer and employee. Employees are able to continue working well in a comfortable environment and employers achieve a happy and productive workforce.

How can Employment Law Services (ELS) help?

If you are an employer who requires assistance with any of the issues raised in this blog contact us today for your free consultation 0370 218 5662.