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Heatwave: What employers should know about keeping staff cool

The heatwave forecast for the UK this weekend and early next week has sparked a national health emergency and weather warning with temperatures predicted to reach highs of 43 degrees. While some Brits enjoy basking in the sun, others fear the discomfort that comes with scorching heat on a workday.

With employers not obligated to send their employees home despite rising temperatures, Debbie Grant, Employment Law Tutor at The University of Law recommends five steps that employers can take to ensure the comfort of their employees during what could be record-breaking temperatures.

  1. Carry out a risk assessment

According to the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers must make a suitable assessment of the workplace and the safety risk it has to their employees.[1] Risk assessments should be carried out for various hazards in the workplace, and often excessive temperatures is one that is overlooked.

Debbie Grant added: “Workplaces should assess the environment and identify any potential hazards that may be present due to an increase in temperatures and manage them appropriately. A safe workplace will have temperature control, access to food and water as well as the correct evacuation protocol.”

  1. Ensure suitable working conditions

In line with providing a risk assessment, there is a legal obligation for employers to provide a reasonable temperature in the workplace.[2] According to the Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers, it is recommended that offices be around 20 degrees, while factories should be between 13-16 degrees.[3]

Debbie Grant explained: “Having carried out a risk assessment beforehand, employers should now be aware of the suitability of the work environment. Making sure offices, hospitals, restaurants and factories have temperature control is essential for ensuring the wellbeing of employees during a heatwave. Where possible, allow employees to have control over air conditioning and heating so they can regulate the environment in which they work.”

  1. Have a relaxed dress code

When temperatures begin reaching the high twenties, choosing suitable office attire can be challenging. Suits, ties, blazers and other restrictive uniforms can cause employees to overheat and experience discomfort, which can then distract them from work.

Debbie Grant said: “During extreme weather, relaxing formal dress codes where possible will make office days more comfortable for employees. A smart casual dress code that allows shirts and jeans, the removal of ties and blazers, as well as sleeveless, less restrictive dresses will be suitable for most workplaces. As long as employee attire is appropriate when in front of clients or customers, a more relaxed approach will make hot office days more bearable.”

  1. Introduce flexible working

For many workplaces, flexible and hybrid working will already be in place, with many employers keeping this system post Covid. However, for those that have employees in the office 9-5, five days a week, it is important to consider being flexible around this during heatwaves.

Debbie Grant commented: “Hybrid working is a great to implement during the hot weather, as it allows employees to work from the comfort of their home, when necessary, in relaxed clothing and with easy access to food, water and even cold showers if the heat becomes too unbearable.

“If hybrid working is not suitable, being flexible around working hours can be beneficial, with employees being able to work around the hottest hours of the day or start later if the heat interferes with their sleep.”

Notes to the editors:

1&2 HSE - Temperature: What the Law says

3 CTT8 CIBSE Top Tips 8: Temperature in Indoor Workplaces (Thermal Comfort) | CIBSE