So what exactly do employers have to do when temperatures soar?

Jul 24, 2013 | Time Off Work

The heatwave seems to be calming down at least a bit, but I’ve had a number of discussions over the last couple of weeks about employers’ obligations when temperatures at work get very high.

One of the common questions I get is whether there’s a maximum- legal’ temperature for a workplace, above which employees can refuse to work and must be sent home. The answer is no. Instead employers are required to provide a “reasonable” temperature in the circumstances, and take reasonable practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of employees where there are more extreme temperatures.

None of us feel like working when it’s very hot as it has been recently, and productivity levels tend to take a nosedive, however the effects of high temperatures on health and safety can also be significant and as an employer you need to mitigate those as far as possible.
Here are some things you can do if your workplace is going above a comfortable temperature:

  • Purchase fans for use in the office, either desk ones or larger ones, to ensure movement of air, easing the effects of high temperature. Place these near open windows if possible to draw in fresh air
  • Purchase portable air conditioning units if you have enclosed rooms where these would be effective
  • Ensure windows open where possible, including getting them fixed if they are broken
  • Ensure blinds are working and adjusted to shade employees from the sun
  • Consider relaxing uniform or formal business dress requirements
  • Allow employees to have water with them if this is not normally permitted, to ensure they remain hydrated
  • Consider adjusting working hours, particularly for those working outside, to avoid the hottest part of the day
  • Allow working from home where appropriate
  • Ensure staff take regular breaks and can get fresh air
  • Check requirements of more vulnerable members of staff carefully, including pregnant employees or those with disabilities or conditions which may be exacerbated by the heat.

Health and safety law is often not as prescriptive as people perceive it to be, and is more frequently based on reasonable behaviour and consideration given to the health and safety of employees rather than specific requirements.

So look at the environment and circumstances your staff are working in, consider whether it is acceptable and think about what changes you could make to ensure staff are more comfortable, more productive and happier at work during adverse weather of any kind. Ask employees for their thoughts as well, as they may have concerns you haven’t thought of or ideas that might work to improve things.

If you would like any advice on this subject please contact us at [email protected].