Partner Sue Dowling, in leading Thames Valley law firm Blandy & Blandy’s Employment Law team, offers a reminder of important health and safety laws in light of the soaring temperatures set to hit parts of England this week.
The Met Office has issued a heat alert warning with temperatures in England forecast to reach 34 degrees Celsius in the next few days, so what should employers be aware of during periods of hot weather?
Employers’ obligations during hot weather
Employers are required to take reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 deal with the control of temperature and ventilation and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 place an obligation on the employer to carry out a risk assessment of the workplace and act accordingly.
When working in high temperatures employees can experience a loss of concentration, confusion, drowsiness and possibly even heat stroke or other ill effects. It is also important to bear in mind that an individual’s age and overall health can affect their reaction to higher temperatures.
Consequently, employers have a duty to ensure that their employees are able to work in ‘reasonable’ temperatures.
Whilst the guidance recommends the minimum temperature in a workplace should generally be at least 16 degrees Celsius (or 13 degrees Celsius if employees are doing physical work), there is currently no maximum temperature set by law.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) wants to make it illegal to keep employees working indoors if the temperature is 30 degrees Celsius or more (27 degrees Celsius or more for those engaged in physically demanding work). However, at the moment, employers must stick to the health and safety at work law by:
- keeping the temperature at a comfortable level and
- providing clean and fresh air.
In any event, employers should carry out a risk assessment during periods of very hot weather, to assess the working environment and whether it can be safely worked in. Factors to take into account of course depend on the type of workplace in question, i.e. a bakery will automatically be warmer than an office.
Taking reasonable steps
Reasonable steps must be taken to limit any risk posed to employees and employers may therefore wish to implement changes to normal practices during hot weather, even where they are under no formal obligation to do so.
- providing additional fans or similar devices;
- allowing a more relaxed dress code or uniform;
- giving additional breaks during working hours;
- shading windows and increasing ventilation;
- making water freely available;
- consider allowing flexible working e.g. adjusting shifts, working from home.
Employers are also advised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to liaise closely with their employees in such a situation.