My background as a personal injury litigator for over 10 years with previous experience in the controls industry and my current role in our employment team puts me in a unique position to consider how the current spell of hot weather we are enjoying affects workers and what employers can do to ensure the comfort and safety of their workforce.
What does the law say?
There are two main pieces of legislation to consider when assessing an employee’s health and safety in the work place.
The first is The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. These regulations state that “the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.” This places a legal obligation on employers to provide a “reasonable” working environment inside a workplace.
This act also requires an adequate supply of drinking water to be available to workers.
The second act is The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. These Regulations require an employer to conduct a risk assessment considering the risks to the health and safety of their employees.
All employers therefore have a duty to control the temperature in indoor working places and to consider the risks to the health, safety and welfare of their employees whilst at work.
The dangers of working in heat
There are many dangers of working in the heat such as the risk of dehydration, heat stroke, exhaustion and sun burn. In some classes of worker these risks are greater, for example particularly young or old workers, pregnant women, workers with a disability or those on medication.
For many employers it can be relatively easy to control the workplace temperature, for example turning the air conditioning up in an office block, but there are many workplaces where controlling the environmental temperature is not so easy, for example those who work outside on building sites.
The Met Office recently issued a Yellow Weather Warning for the UK due to the heat and this has now been extended. Many people working in construction have viewed this weather warning as a need to modify their working hours stating that they should not be expected to work outside between 11am and 3pm for health and safety purposes. Various unions are also calling upon employers to take heed of the weather warning and make special measures for those working outside.
My advice for employers
Keeping cool in the workplace
If you operate inside an office environment controlling workplace temperatures should not be too difficult as most buildings do have air conditioning, but don’t rely on this alone, remember there is an ongoing duty to risk assess the workplace. A quick risk assessment will identify if the air conditioning is enough or if additional measures need to be taken such as putting fans out, closing blinds or moving desks away from windows where there is direct sunlight shining in. If your office space does not have air conditioning these additional measures should certainly be considered and where it is safe to do so also open windows to allow a free flow of cool air in to the building.
If your workers work outside conduct a more thorough on site risk assessment and think of practical measures you can take such as:
- provide sun cream and ask site supervisors to ensure workers are applying sun cream regularly,
- put canopies up to prevent workers being exposed to direct sunlight,
- hire industrial fans to circulate cool air,
- require workers to take frequent breaks so they get some respite from the heat
- rotate workers so their individual duties do not require them to be in excessively hot conditions or exposed to direct sunlight all day.
As per the above employers must ensure there is an adequate supply of drinking water in the workplace. Again, for those working in indoor spaces this should not usually be a problem but in this heat check that the supply is adequate, especially where water butts are supplied as opposed to tap water.
For workers that work outdoors consider providing bottled water, hiring fridges where appropriate to keep water cool and asking supervisors to ensure workers are drinking regularly.
It is important to remember that employees should not wait until they are thirsty to drink as this indicates they are already becoming dehydrated, instead they should be encouraged to drink regularly throughout the day.
Most employers have a dress code at work, even if it is loosely termed such as “smart casual”. In some cases a dress code can be more stringent for health and safety purposes or to promote a corporate image.
However, in hot weather, as long as health and safety is not compromised, consider relaxing dress codes to stop employees from becoming over heated. This could be simple things such as allowing people to remove ties, wearing shorts or open toed shoes.
If you employ any vulnerable workers remember to account for this in your risk assessment. It is advisable to give vulnerable workers more frequent rest breaks and to ask them if there are any specific measures they believe would make them more comfortable in the workplace. It is also advisable to ask your occupational health department for any advice they can offer for vulnerable workers.
Keep it fun
Finally, remember to enjoy this weather and keep it fun. Here at Boyes Turner we have had ice cream sales in the office with all profits going to charity. This is a great way to keep cool, enjoy a tasty treat and raise money for worthy causes.
If you would like any other employment or HR advice please contact the employment team at Boyes Turner on 0118 952 7284.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.