It may not happen very often, but when the UK is sweltering in a heatwave it’s not always everyone’s idea of paradise.
If you’ve ever been stuck on the London Underground on a particularly hot summer’s day, you’ll know the feeling! As the UK has just ‘enjoyed’ the hottest September day in over 100 years, the issue of workplace temperature has once again been raised.
The rules that govern the temperature of indoor workplace are covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
Minimum and maximum workplace temperatures
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations state that the minimum indoor workplace temperature should be at least 16C. If the work involves what is called ‘rigorous physical effort’, then the minimum temperature should be at least 13C.
However, the specified minimum temperatures are not absolute legal requirements but the employer does have a duty to ensure staff work in “reasonable comfort”.
In terms of a maximum working temperature, the Health and Safety Executive do not specify a specific limit as high temperatures can vary dramatically in different workplaces – for example foundries and glass works. In high-temperature working environments such as these, the HSE says that it is still possible for employees to work safely providing that all necessary safety controls are in place.
So where does this leave the more ‘standard’ workplaces like offices, call centres and factories?
In addition to the Workplace Regulations 1992, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 state that employers must make a suitable assessment of any and every risk to the health and safety of their employees – and take action where it is deemed necessary.
Workplace temperature is one of these potential hazards in the workplace; in terms of high temperatures employers have a legal obligation to consult with their staff (and their representatives) to establish sensible means to cope with high temperatures.
What can employers do to control workplace temperature?
So although there isn’t a legal limit to how hot a workplace should be, employers are expected to make sure employees are working in ‘reasonable’ temperatures.
If the workplace temperature is at risk of becoming unreasonably warm, there are certain ‘control’ measures employers can take. There are six main control methods:
Control the working environment
- Utilise air-conditioners by replacing hot air with cold, or vice-versa
- Use humidifiers to dehumidify or humidify the air in the workplace
- Increase ventilation in the workplace, or redirect air movement onto or away from employees
Separate employees from the source of heat/cold
- Put up barriers to either shield or insulate the work area, or restrict access to affected areas
- Remove employees from the affected area, providing temporary new job roles if required
Control the employees’ tasks
- Limit the amount of time their employees are exposed to hot/cold conditions at work
- Control the level, and rate, of work employees are expected to carry out in the adverse conditions
- Where applicable, introduce mechanical aids (power tools, lifting tools etc…) that will assist any physically demanding jobs
Control the employees’ clothing
- If protective clothing is worn, then employers should ensure that employees are not wearing too much than is required to be safe
- If employees are required to wear uniforms, or there is a dress code in place, then employers can reassess the rules and propose alternative designs to improve levels of comfort e.g. short sleeves
Let employees adapt their behaviour
Wherever possible, employers can:
- Remove any restrictions on the dress code to allow employees to make their own minor adjustments to increase comfort levels
- Give employees the freedom to make adjustments to their work rate
- Provide employees with warm-up or cool-down facilities/areas
- Provide employees with portable fans or heaters, and allow employees to open windows and adjust thermostats to suit their environment
Monitor and consult with employees
- Make sure employees are given appropriate training and provided with supervision
- Seek professional medical advice for any ‘at risk’ employees e.g. those who are pregnant, are on medication or have an illness or disability
This blog was written by CL Legal, a Liverpool solicitor specialising in personal injury compensation.