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Businesses could do with a break as they aim to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. However, with record temperatures being recorded across the globe and the first heatwave warning of its kind announced in the UK today, where do businesses and employees stand when it comes to temperatures in the workplace? Let’s answer WHEN IS IT LEGALLY TOO HOT TO WORK?

Before we go any further, you may be thinking ‘surely not?’. However, some businesses in the UK – including Welsh establishments The Stone Crab restaurant, Pembrokshire, and the Stamp and Grind Coffee Bar, Blackwood – have indeed closed amid the heatwave. The latter recorded a temperature of 42 degrees Celsius behind the counter, and a decision was made to close the doors for three days.

Of course – as with anything in the current climate – there was a social media backlash, with one user telling the UK to ‘get a grip’.

However, this isn’t useful from a legal standpoint.

There is no set upper temperate limit in the UK workplace. Nevertheless, employers have a legal obligation to ensure that the temperature in the workplace is ‘reasonable’, as outlined by the Workplace (Health, Safety, and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

However, HSE has created a ‘thermal comfort checklist’, which essentially states that if two or more of their criteria are ‘ticked’, then a more extensive risk assessment ‘may need to be carried out’.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) stated – at the bottom of page 3 in their document – that it believes a maximum temperature of 30°C should be set by employers, with a maximum of 27°C put into place for those doing strenuous work.

With nothing legally binding, it’s up to the employer and employee to work together to ensure work is as safe and comfortable as possible.

Here are some informal tips for employees and employers during hot weather:

For employees

  • If work keeps you outdoors for a long time your skin could be exposed to more sun 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 mole
  • Too much sunlight is harmful to your skin as it can cause skin damage including sunburn, blistering and skin ageing and in the long term can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer.
  • You can manage your exposure to the sun by wearing high factor sunscreen, drinking lots of water and taking regular breaks in shaded areas.

For employers

  • 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 to help encourage heat loss
  • Educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of heat stress

Closing thought

As global temperatures continue to rise in the foreseeable future, it will be interesting to monitor how policy towards temperature in the workplace change in the UK and further afield.

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