Too Hot To Work – Temperatures In The Workplace

When temperatures rise, people often think it is “too hot to work”.

Temperatures in UK have been very high in the last few days.  The hottest August Bank Holiday ever was recorded.   So what is the law about temperatures at work?  And what can employers do to keep it comfortable?

What are the legal requirements about temperatures in the workplace?

The simple answer is that, in the UK, there is no law which specifies maximum (or minimum) working temperatures.  There is no law which says when it is too hot (or cold) to work.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises that “in offices or similar environments, the temperature in workplaces must be reasonable”.  The requirement on employers is that they must keep the temperature at a “comfortable level”, known as thermal comfort.  They must also provide clean and fresh air.  There are six basic factors which affect thermal comfort.

The six basic factors affecting thermal comfort

Each individual person has different levels of comfort and can be affected in different ways from others.  The most commonly used and obvious factor is air temperature.  This is easily measured, but it can be affected by the other factors.

Another environmental factor is thermal radiation.  This is the heat which radiates from a warm object.  This may be present if there are hot pipes, machinery or other heat sources in a workplace.  This has more influence than air temperature on how we lose or gain heat.   Direct sun is also a source of thermal radiation.

The speed of air moving across a person (air velocity) may help them to cool down. For example, if there is a fan or moving air through an open window.  Humidity is another factor. If there is water vapour in warm air, this can result in humidity and people feeling “sticky”.

There are also a couple of personal factors which affect thermal comfort.  A person may feel more or less at a comfortable temperature, depending on their clothing.  Too much clothing or safety clothing – Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can be a primary cause of heat stress.

The final factor is the individual’s work rate.  The more physical work we do, the more heat we produce.  Individual physical factors such as size, weight, age, fitness level can all have an impact.  We are all different and react differently to changes in temperature.

What can employers do to keep temperatures in the workplace at a comfortable level?

There are a number of things which employers can consider to make the workplace more comfortable when the temperature rises.   You may already be doing some things and others are simple to implement.  Some things to consider are:

  • provide desk fans
  • allow flexible hours/early starts so people can choose to avoid working at the hottest times of the day
  • where possible, encourage people to open windows
  • if you have air conditioning, make sure it is maintained and working
  • allow relaxed dress codes
  • keep blinds closed to avoid direct sun
  • move workstations away from any hot machinery/pipes, etc
  • insulate hot pipes and machinery, where possible
  • ensure that risk assessments include considerations about temperatures in the workplace
  • provide fresh drinking water (preferably cooled)
  • allow regular breaks for people to cool down
  • allow flexible, remote or home working
  • provide clear guidance on all of the above to employees

As always, I would advise you to consult with and collaborate with your employees.  They may have some more ideas about how to be more comfortable at work during periods of extreme temperatures.

One final thing for employers to think about, is when to  carry out risk assessments.  In particular, if you receive several complaints from employees about the temperature in the workplace and their discomfort, then you must carry out a risk assessment and take appropriate action.   For further advice, see the Health and Safety Executive website.

What about jobs which involve extreme temperatures in the workplace?

There are some types of work which create extreme temperatures in the workplace, regardless of the season.  Some manufacturing processes, for example, can have serious effects on health if the temperature is not managed properly.

In such an environment, it is critical to undertake risk assessments. If your Business involves people working in very high or low temperatures, then you should seek further advice from the Health and Safety Executive or a professional health and safety expert.

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