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When is ‘hot’ too hot to work?

Over the weekend, the Met Office issued a red “extreme” heat warning for large parts of England for Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, temperatures hit 38°C in parts of England, and Wales recorded its hottest ever temperature and today is expected to reach temperatures of 42°C in parts of England. Temperatures like this, whilst still relatively uncommon in the UK, are becoming more frequent and it is important for employers what this means for them, and also what it means for employees.

Temperatures at work are covered in the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (“the Regulations”). The Regulations state that workplace temperatures must be “reasonable”. The Regulations provide little further clarification, however the code of practice that accompanies the Regulations provide some helpful guidance. The code of practice sets a minimum inside workplace temperature as “normally at least 16 degrees”. Where physical effort is involved, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees. The code of practice is unfortunately silent on what constitutes too hot to work, however does advise employers to take all reasonable steps to achieve a comfortable temperature.

Last week, MPs signed a motion asking the Government to introduce legislation to make sure employers are maintaining reasonable workplace temperatures. Included in the motion is a suggested maximum workplace temperature of 30 degrees or 27 degrees where physical effort is involved. It is worth noting that this was previously suggested by Unions and MPs back in 2013 but was not introduced at the time.

Whilst we await to see whether or not a maximum temperature is introduced, employers would do well to consider what practical steps they can introduce now. An easy and obvious suggestions is allowing for more casual dress at work where employees are required to wear business attire. Employers may also want to consider moving workstations out of direct sunlight where offices do not have tinted windows. Furthermore, additional consideration should be given to vulnerable employees such as those with disabilities or pregnant employees.

Whilst there is nothing to force an employer to consider the above steps, a failure to be reasonable may result in absences, poor work performance or low staff morale. Heat waves in the UK rarely last for a significant period of time and whilst employers may view the above suggestions as an inconvenience, they should remember that in all likelihood, such measures will only be required briefly.

Please contact –

Simon Turton

Tel: 0114 220 1795

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