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Are you keeping your cool?

With yet another heatwave in the south of the country, do you know what you are required to do with regards to the maximum indoor workplace temperature?

As you will be aware, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 place a legal obligation on you to provide a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace.

Unfortunately, there is no definition of what is reasonable in these circumstances as to some extent it will depend on the nature of the work being carried out (is it mainly sedentary or is there a lot of physical work required?)

There is currently no maximum temperature beyond which it’s unlawful for employees to work. Obviously, you should address workplace temperature and thermal comfort as a potential hazard in your risk assessment and set out sensible ways of helping employees to cope with working in high temperatures caused by hot weather. These might include:

• providing fans or portable air conditioning units or regulating existing air conditioning units
• encouraging windows to be opened
• using blinds or reflective film to shade windows from direct sunlight
• siting workstations away from direct sunlight
• enabling frequent rest breaks so that employees can cool down or get cold drinks
• providing cold water dispensers
• relaxing formal dress codes
• enabling employees to start work earlier or take a longer a break in the middle of the day and then work later, so that they’re working in cooler times of the day
• giving special consideration to employees who are pregnant, menopausal or have certain disabilities, e.g. a thyroid imbalance or a heart condition. (This may also be something you need to address in an individual risk assessment for a pregnant worker or new mother.)

I know of one employer who phoned up the local ice cream van and booked it to turn up at the business and they bought every employee an ice cream. That helped keep flagging staff going for the rest of the afternoon without any more complaints!

If employees are expected to work outdoors, think about providing sun protection in terms of hats, sunglasses and sun cream as well as providing additional drinks and frequent breaks in the shade where possible.

Although the temperature in your workplace must be “reasonable”, the law doesn’t state a maximum temperature. Carry out a thermal comfort risk assessment and then implement appropriate controls to manage high workplace temperatures caused by hot weather. As the effect is seasonal, some of these may only need to be in place temporarily.
Posted on 08 Aug 2022
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