Updated Jul 18, 2022

Heat wave sparks welfare concerns

As parts of Europe braced themselves for an unprecedented heat wave, during which temperature records were well and truly broken, concerns were raised over the welfare of many people at work, especially those who work outside such as those working on a construction site.

With temperatures reaching 41°C in some parts of the UK last month, something which is expected to be the new normal, it has become especially important to monitor employee welfare and safety.

What the law says

In the UK, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations SI 1992/3004 (in England, Scotland and Wales) and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (Northern Ireland) SR 1993/37 simply state that the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings must be "reasonable".

Meanwhile in Ireland, the temperature in any room containing a workstation must be "appropriate", in accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations SI 299/2007.

There is therefore no maximum temperature set in law for a workplace. Unions in the UK have this week called for this to be changed.

And whilst it can be very difficult to decide what a "reasonable" or "appropriate" temperature is supposed to be, there are simple things that can be done in such heat to protect the welfare of employees.

Managing high temperatures

This list is not exhaustive, and the only way of effectively managing the heat wave in your workplace is to carry out a risk assessment and implement any appropriate measures identified. However, as a general guide:

  • make sure employees have plenty of access to drinks, especially water;
  • allow regular breaks, especially for those working outdoors, so they can seek shade and re-hydrate;
  • if working outside, do not allow employees to remove their clothing to expose the skin, such as removing a t-shirt. This could lead to an increased risk of sunburn or perhaps skin cancer;
  • if you have a strict dress code in an office, consider relaxing it so employees can wear loose-fitting clothing (as long as this does not compromise safety in other ways);
  • if many employees are complaining about being uncomfortable, consider whether the "reasonable" or "appropriate" legal requirements regarding temperature are being met and respond appropriately;
  • for those working outdoors, consider if you can re-schedule working times so that employees are working when it is cooler, such as early in the morning or later in the evening;
  • make sure the workplace is suitably ventilated;
  • provide training to employees so that they know what they should be doing to look after themselves in such heat;
  • make sure supervisors keep on the look-out for any issues and do their best to make sure that the controls identified through the risk assessment are being implemented properly.