Procurement · 26 May 2016

Everything you need to know about heatwaves and the workplace

heatwaves and the workplace
Business must carry out a thermal comfort risk assessment if lots of complaints about the temperature are received
According to reports, temperatures in June are set to soar, with a mini-heatwave predicted to hit the UK. While some may believe it when they see it, for many this could potentially spell the start of an uncomfortable time spent in stuffy offices. But how hot is too hot? We summarise all you need to know about temperature regulations in the workplace.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, state: During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable. However, while most places of work must legally remain above 16c, there is no guideline temperature set at the top end.

Instead, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises: “An acceptable zone of thermal comfort for most people in the UK lies roughly between 13c and 30c. A meaningful figure cannot be given at the upper end of the scale. This is because of factors other than air temperature which determine thermal comfort.

HSE guidance does saythat employers must take action if working temperatures become unreasonable or dangerous. They tell business owners to carry out a thermal comfort risk assessment if lots of complaints are received failure to do so could result in prosecution. These levels are:

  • Tenper cent of employees in an air-conditioned workplace
  • 15 per cent of employees in a workplace with natural ventilation
  • 20 per cent of employees, if it is a retail establishment, factory, or other indoor space without air conditioning

Reaction

If employers do receive complaints, and a risk assessment shows the workplace is too hot, HSE recommends the following steps to help bring the temperature down:

  • First and foremost, use devices such as fans and air conditioners to regulate temperature or provide personal protective equipment that can keep people cool
  • Relax the dress code
  • Cut down on heavy activity through mechanical aids
  • Encourage employees to work at cooler times
  • Allow for extra rest breaks in the hottest periods and provide a cooler space in which staff can take these breaks
  • Limit time spent in the hottest parts of the workplace
  • Ensure you are supplying plenty of cold water

Prevention

Of course, prevention may well be the best cure when it comes to a stifling workplace. Again HSE advise a number of steps to ensure businesses are prepared for a heatwave. These include:

  • Insulating hot water pipes
  • Keeping workstations out of the sun
  • Placing thermometers throughout the workplace to allow people to monitor temperature
  • Provide suitable cooling equipment for hot days
  • Make sure everyone can open windows
HSE also suggest wider-reaching cultural changes, including identifying the highest-risk parties and protecting them first, and ensuring staff are trained to recognise the symptoms of heat stress.

Expert advice

Many feel these temperature regulations, with no guideline maximum figure, don’t go far enough indeed, Office Genie was critical of the regulations last year. Strong concern has also been voiced by the Trade Union Congress (TUC). They have been campaigning for 27-30c to be set officially as a maximum temperature in the workplace.

Frances Ogrady, General Secretary of the TUC, said: it’s no fun working in a baking office or factory and employers should do all they can to take the temperature down.


 
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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Peter Ames is the head of strategy for Office Genie, the first desk space marketplace in the UK under the umbrella of Genie Ventures (a digital marketing and e-commerce company). The site is responsible for letting out millions of pounds worth of space to the country's small businesses and freelancers.

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