With the recent heat waves, thermal comfort in the workplace is now becoming something of a challenge for many employers. Whilst there is no maximum workplace temperature specified in the UK, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that workplaces shall be maintained at a ‘reasonable’ temperature. What is ‘reasonable’ will depend upon the nature of the work, but according to the HSE, an acceptable level of thermal comfort lies somewhere between 13°C and 30°C.
Workers likely to be most at risk include catering staff, outdoor workers e.g. horticultural workers, maintenance personnel, process workers and employees who must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as breathing apparatus or impermeable clothing. Employees working in offices which do not have air conditioning are also likely to be affected by hot weather.
It is important to continue wearing PPE during extreme temperatures. However, encourage staff to remove them during break times to cool off, sit in the shade or a cool area and drink plenty of fluids, this will help to reduce heat stress. Heat stress is where the body is under stress from over heating. Heat related illnesses include heat cramps or heat stroke, each with its own symptoms and treatments. Symptoms can range from profuse sweating, heat rash, fainting, loss of concentration.
10 Top Tips for Dealing with the Heat
- Consult with your employees to establish reasonable levels of thermal comfort for the majority, but accept that you won’t be able to please everybody.
- Carry out a risk assessment and identify employees who are most susceptible to heat stress, e.g. pregnant women. Consider altering work patterns to reduce the level of risk by job rotation, working at cooler times of the day. Limit exposure of outdoor workers by providing sunscreen and suitable clothing, e.g. long sleeves and hats.
- Modify the working environment by providing mobile air conditioning units, but not oscillating fans, as these simply circulate warm air. Use window blinds or shades to help reduce the effects of heat and solar gain.
- Provide more frequent breaks in a cooler environment – the hotter the working environment and more strenuous the work, the more frequent breaks should be.
- Ensure a constant supply of drinking water and stress to staff how important it is to maintain hydration at work. Caffeine-based drinks can actually speed up dehydration, as they are diuretic. Coffee also speeds up metabolism, thereby increasing body temperature.
- If you have a dress code, consider relaxing it, as it’s better to have productive, casually-dressed employees, than employees who must leave work because they feel unwell.
- Ask staff to turn off electrical equipment when leaving the office. Power used to keep items on stand-by is dissipated into the workplace as heat.
- Do big print runs and other heat generating jobs in the cooler part of the day.
- If office temperatures are unbearable for some, consider allowing them to work from home.
- Review PPE provision to see if there is any which is cooler and more comfortable and which can offer the same (or better) level of protection.
Your risk assessment must take into account factors such as temperature to protect your employees, as well as helping you stay on the right side of the law.
If you require advice please contact us.