How have UK employers managed workplace temperatures when things started heating up recently?

Posted on: 17th Jul 2018 by: Dêmos HR Solutions

Managing employee absence and staff welfare in the UK Heatwave

When the temperature soared, with talk of records for the highest temperature in the UK being broken, thoughts turned to minimising the risk of absences. Whilst there is no legal obligation for working temperatures, taking extra care in keeping employees cool, staying hydrated, and avoiding exposure to the sun have been high on the agenda for employers. And in the UK, it’s a good idea to know what you can do for your staff, as well as know what to expect from your employer when you’re working in seasonal heat, so you can avoid a workplace meltdown.

How hot is too hot? Is there a maximum working temperature?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have not set a minimum or maximum office temperature for safe working, but instead recommend taking ‘reasonable’ steps to attempt to keep temperatures as comfortable as possible. Working in high or low temperatures is not always indicated by the seasons and can be an unavoidable consideration depending on the nature of the job or location of work.

Working temperature laws highlight the need for thermal comfort and the provision of clean and fresh air in helping to achieve a safe working temperature and ensure employee well-being, with an average recommended comfort level falling between an air temperature of 16-24oC.

Tips for employers in managing workplace temperature

If your organisation hasn’t already got one, having a risk management policy for working in the heat, will help you to provide a clear, consistent and fair approach to handling hot weather, and non-seasonal working conditions also affected by the heat or the cold, depending on the type of work being carried out and the type of workplace.

When the workplace or office is too hot there are a few easy solutions you can implement to protect the thermal comfort of your staff and ensure they keep their cool:

The commute: While employees travelling by car shouldn’t be greatly affected by rising temperatures, public transport users may find themselves subjected to delays and cancellations because of the weather. Having a contingency plan in place to accommodate late arrivals or non-attendance will give you and your employee some extra peace of mind. 

Medical conditions & pregnancy:  Pregnant members of staff, and those taking certain medications, can feel the heat the most. Provide the opportunity for rest breaks, and offer a personal fan or portable air conditioning unit where possible, to help them cope a little easier in a heatwave.

Working conditions: For some employees, working in direct sunlight or wearing protective clothing may be an essential requirement of the job. Reasonable measures to help prevent skin damage through providing SPF or extra shade, to water for hydration and regular opportunities to remove protective garments to cool off, are small scale solutions that can have a big positive impact on staff wellness and productivity.

Dress code: Relaxing a formal dress code, to allow your employees to wear lighter looser clothing will help to ensure their comfort and won’t mean that standards or reputation will slip.

Policy: Make an assessment of thermal risk a routine part of workplace risk assessments. Regularly reviewing the level of risk and implementing solutions to manage them.  

What reasonable adjustments can an employee make?

  • Clothing: Employees should avoid wearing layers when the weather gets too warm and should opt for lighter breathable fabrics to help them stay as cool and comfortable as possible.
  • Desk fans: A small desk fan or perfectly placed pedestal fans in the office can be a low-cost solution when the office is too hot, that can make a world of difference.
  • Window blinds: Keep the office environment cool by ensuring windows are opened and that window blinds are closed to reflect heat away from the workspace.
  • Water: Employees should have access to drinking water. Keeping hydrated can help to fight the fatigue associated with high UK temperatures, and can also prevent heatstroke.
  • Away from direct sunlight: When possible employees can switch tasks to avoid working in direct sunlight. 
  • Rest breaks: Employees can request more frequent rest breaks at the discretion of their manager.
  • Speak to your manager: As an employee, if you feel that reasonable measures, such as maintaining the air conditioning or insulating hot pipes, to ensure thermal comfort have been missed or need attention, speak to a member of the management team or a workplace representative to make a request.

Working in the heat can be unpredictable, especially in the UK, but with adequate risk assessment and planning, your business can continue to manage the heatwave, that is set to last all summer. Speak to Debbie at Dêmos HR Solutions on 07974 695 365, or complete our enquiry form, for advice around risk management policies and to stay cool when things heat up!

Tags: UKHeatwave, office temperature, employee absence, staff welfare,