Working temperatures: Is it too hot to work?

Whenever the temperature rises in the UK, employees start to ask, ‘is it too hot to work?’

Whilst there’s a law for minimum working temperature (working when it’s too cold), there’s actually no law for maximum working temperature, or when it’s too hot to work.

This is because bakeries and and workplaces that use hot processes would be unable to comply with the regulations. However, indoor workplace temperature is covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

In offices or similar environments, the temperature in workplaces must be reasonable and employers must stick to health and safety at work law, including:

  • keeping the temperature at a comfortable level, sometimes known as thermal comfort and;
  • providing clean and fresh air.

The HSE thermal comfort checklist can help you identify whether there may be a risk of thermal discomfort in your workplace.

Practical Actions to improve thermal comfort in your workplace

There are a few practical actions you and your employees can take such as:

  • add or remove layers of clothing
  • use a desk or pedestal fan to increase air movement
  • use window blinds (if available) to cut down on the heating effects of the sun
  • in warm situations, drink plenty of water and avoid caffeinated or carbonated drinks
  • if possible, work away from direct sunlight or sources of radiant heat
  • take regular breaks to cool down in warm situations and heat up in cold situations
  • where possible ensuring windows that open, fans are provided to promote local cooling and radiators can be switched off or air conditioning units are maintained
  • introduce flexible hours or early/late starts to help avoid the worst effects of working in high temperatures
  • relaxing formal dress codes
  • insulating hot plant or pipes
  • moving workstations away from hot plant or out of direct sunlight
  • including assessments of thermal risk as part of workplace risk assessments

Managing outdoor working environments

Outdoor working does pose some challenges, however, there are of course actions you can take such as:

  • reschedule work to cooler times of the day
  • provide more frequent rest breaks and introduce shading to rest areas
  • provide free access to cool drinking water
  • introduce shading in areas where individuals are working
  • encourage the removal of personal protective equipment when resting and on breaks to help encourage heat loss
  • educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of heat stress
  • promoting the use of SPF

Working in the sun

Too much sunlight is harmful to your skin and can include sunburn, blistering and skin ageing. In the long term sun exposure can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer – one of the most common forms of cancer in the UK with over 50,000 new cases every year.

Who is at risk from working in the sun?

Outdoor workers are exposed to the sun for long periods of time, often longer than is healthy for you. You should take particular care if you have:

  • fair or freckled skin that doesn’t tan, or goes red or burns before it tans
  • red or fair hair and light coloured eyes
  • a large number of moles

Businesses with outdoor workers who are exposed to sunlight often should encourage workers to use sunscreen – preferably a high factor such as SPF 20+. If possible, wearing a hat with a large brim to protect the face and neck from sun exposure and to provide shade where possible.

 

 

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