22 Aug 2018
Following the Great British Heat Wave, many employees (and employers) across the country are asking the question: ‘Why isn’t there a legally enforceable maximum workplace temperature?’ This isn’t the first time the question has come up, but it is the first time a maximum workplace temperature has become a real possibility.
Why haven’t we already got a maximum workplace temperature?
Currently there is no legal maximum indoor workplace temperature in the UK. Employers do have a legal obligation to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature to allow reasonable comfort, which is between 21 to 26 degrees Celsius dependent on the environment and not just temperature alone but other factors such as air movement, ventilation and air conditioning etc.
There is however a minimum indoor temperature of 16ºC for or 13ºC for those doing physical work, where there is a specific need for temperatures to be controlled (non-ambient for chilled or frozen food or foundry workers for example suitable PPE should be worn). Again, all reasonable steps should be taken to achieve a temperature which as close as possible to comfortable.
The reason for this is that in some workplaces, such as foundries or glass works, extreme temperatures are the norm. Setting a legal maximum limit in these cases would essentially mean certain industries be forced to cease trading due to health & safety requirements and risk.
So, will we ever get a maximum workplace temperature?
This year, possibly due to the severity of the heat wave and the widespread outcry asking for it, MPs are now considering implementing a maximum workplace temperature. It has been reported that extreme temperature events in Europe are now 10 times more likely than they were a decade ago.
Extreme temperatures are a major cause of economic loss and an increase in heat waves also impact on existing health & safety risks. With temperatures set to rise the worse the situation gets, the more unreasonable it becomes not to implement a maximum temperature. How much worse can it get?
Mary Creagh, chair of the environmental audit committee states: “Heat wave warnings are welcomed as barbecue alerts, but they threaten health, wellbeing and productivity. The Met Office has projected that UK summer temperatures could regularly reach 38.5ºC by the 2040s.” It is therefore highly likely that some form of maximum temperature legislation will come into force—although probably not as soon as some of us may like.
What can we do in the meantime?
Employers are still legally responsible for the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees. Making staff work in a hot working environment not only puts them at risk to heat stress, it is detrimental to business.
Workers are proven to be less productive in uncomfortable temperatures and so productivity will decrease as a result. Listen to your employees and if you have multiple complaints regarding the office temperature being too hot, carry out a risk assessment and take measures to reduce the risk.
Measuring for humidity as well as temperature is a good way of making sure you get a more accurate representation of your employees’ environment. A relative humidity between 40-70% does not majorly impact on thermal comfort. Finally, consider relaxing policies on dress code, particularly for white collar workers and flexible working during periods of prolonged extreme weather temperatures.
Doing so ensures you consider employees’ wellbeing seriously, whilst maintaining a morale and productivity. In the long term consider forward planning and installation or upgrading air conditioning systems throughout the premises or creating smaller breakout rooms or areas for staff to go to cool down.
For leased premises look at suitable alternative premises at renewal, that already have provision to cope with the anticipated extreme temperatures.
For support on maximum workplace temperature law in the UK, or any other H&S issue, please contact a Croner expert on 01455 858 132
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