Our summer temperatures are getting higher and lasting longer year on year. Employers should identify the upper workplace temperature as foreseeable risk and take reasonable measures to protect their employees from the risks posed by heat exposure.
When the workplace gets too hot it is more than just an issue about comfort. If the temperature goes too high then it can become a health and safety issue. If people get too hot, they risk dizziness, fainting, or even heat cramps. In very hot conditions the body’s blood temperature rises. If the blood temperature rises above 39 °C, there is a risk of heat stroke or collapse, Delirium or confusion can occur above 41°C. Blood temperatures at this level can prove fatal and even if a worker does recover, they may suffer irreparable organ damage.
High temperatures can lead to an increase in the likelihood of accidents due to reduced concentration; slippery, sweaty palms as well as an increase of discomfort of some personal protective gear which can result in reduced protection through inappropriate usage or non-usage. Heat can also aggravate other medical conditions and illnesses such as high blood pressure or heart disease due to increased load on the heart, as well as interacting with or increasing the effect of other workplace hazards.
Workers at greater risk of heat stress include those who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat. In addition, high temperatures are associated with a reduced sperm count and can be dangerous during pregnancy.
What does the law say?
An employer must provide a working environment which is, as far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health. In addition, employers have to assess risks and introduce any necessary prevention or control measures.
There is no maximum temperature for workers, although the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations state the temperature inside workplace buildings must be ‘reasonable’. The Approved Code of Practice to the regulations does give a minimum temperature along with guidance on how it can be achieved, yet no maximum.
With this in mind the employer should consider all reasonable precautions to provide a comfortable working temperature including the provisions of:
- Flexible working hours
- Well ventilated work areas
- Considering the installation of air conditioning
- Consider the provision of portable air conditioning/air cooler units
- Desktop fans
- Provision of cool potable water
- Encourage breaks to be taken in shaded areas.