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Working in a heatwave

Employment Law

As the Met Office announces that the UK is set for another heat wave this August, many employers and employees are unsure of the regulations and preparations for the workplace in such temperatures.

How hot is the workplace allowed to be?

Currently, there is a minimum working temperature of 16°C in an office, but there is no maximum figure. This is due to some workplaces being hot the majority of the time, for example, kitchens. However, the Health and Safety Executive states that employers must keep the space a ‘reasonable’ temperature and ensure the ‘thermal comfort’ of their employees.

The reasonable steps an employer should take for the well-being and safety of their staff in warm weather are dependent on the industry they are in. For example, work that occurs outside may mean that the working hours need adjusting so that employers can go inside at the peak heat of the day. Alternatively, office workers may need the temperature regulating through the implementation of fans or air conditioning. It’s also important to note that an employer legally has a duty of care to their employees and therefore, staff can ask to work from home if the workplace cannot be maintained at a reasonable temperature.

Workplace attire and the heat

When temperatures rise, staff may want to get their shorts on with a pair of flip-flops, but it is important to ensure that employees do not break the dress code without the employer’s permission.

Employers can insist that staff stick to the usual dress code despite the heat as this is usually stated in a contract or the employee handbook. However, as an employer, it could be suggested that relaxing the rules a little particularly in extreme heat situations will help with staff moral and absences.

In some industries, the employer may need to supply protective clothing and sun cream particularly if the work is being carried out outdoors. Measures may also need to be taken to avoid employees suffering with heatstroke such as allowing more frequent breaks and providing water.

Commuting and the heat

If staff travel via public transport such as trains or buses, employers should take into consideration that these services may suffer delays or cancellations due to staff illnesses and technical issues caused by the heat. The same should be carried over to those travelling by car as the heat may cause extra traffic and in some extreme cases, problems with the road’s surfaces.

If you are an employer who would like more information on how to ensure your workplace can continue to run efficiently during the heatwave, or if you an employee who feels that your workplace is not a reasonable place to work in the heat, please contact Martin Bloom.

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