How hot is too hot (to work)?

Published: July 25th, 2022

7 min read

The recent record-breaking temperatures and the first ever red heatwave warning from the Met Office has led to calls from some MPs and unions for legislation to be introduced to put a limit on workplace temperatures to 30 degrees, or 27 degrees for workers doing strenuous work. There has also been calls for employers to have a statutory duty to introduce control measures, such as ventilation or moving staff away from sources of heat.

Whilst heat can cause significant consequences for some people, including dizziness, fainting, heat stroke, tiredness, or even death, there is no limit on the maximum temperature at work. Rather, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (SI 1992/3004) requires employers to ensure that temperatures in all workplaces inside buildings are reasonable. Employers also have a duty of care for their employees, regardless of where they work.

There's no doubt that we are seeing more extreme weather temperatures more frequently and as this increases, this is likely to prompt the government to look and address potentially implementing legislation on this matter. There is however already a list of other pieces of legislation, including employment legislation, awaiting to be addressed. It therefore may be a while before the calls from MPs and unions are meaningfully responded to.

In the meantime, employers should be considering the impacts of hot temperatures on their workforce and their output, including ensuring managers are aware of symptoms of heatstroke and dehydration, identification of who may be more at risk of heat-related illness, including older workers or those experiencing the menopause, and that accidents may be more likely, for example due to increased perspiration when handling tools, or employees struggling to concentrate. Where possible:

  • be flexible with working arrangements, including earlier or later starts and finishes to avoid the hottest hours of the day and more frequent breaks
  • provide areas not in direct sunlight
  • move workstations away from direct sunlight
  • ensure water is provided for staff
  • advise of any dress code/uniform modifications that can be made to make working more comfortable
  • provide air conditioning or fans

BrightHR reported a 59% increase in the number of leave requests for 18 July, where temperatures soared up to approximately 41 degrees nationwide, and the rate of sickness absence was 50% in the previous week. Bear in mind that employees are likely to want to enjoy the sunshine, but always be aware of annual leave policies and caps your organisation has in place. Further, continue to use the absence management procedure as normal, including making sure all absences are recorded.

To answer the question in the title, there is no set temperature employers should be keeping their eyes peeled for as of yet, however the duty of care to employees applies in the heights of summer and the depths of winter and everything in between, and when faced with extreme temperatures, flexibility should be used, where possible, to ensure the health and wellbeing of employees is protected, and the measures taken documented.

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