Too hot to work?

As temperatures are set to soar this week, what does the law say about workplace temperatures and what should employers be doing to make things more comfortable for their employees?

What are the rules?

Interestingly there is no legal minimum or maximum working temperature.  This is because some workplaces operate at extreme temperatures. However, guidance suggests a minimum of 16ºC or 13ºC if the work involves ‘rigorous physical effort’.  These temperatures are not absolute legal requirements – the employer has a duty to determine what “reasonable comfort will be” in the particular circumstances.

What should Employers do?

The Health and Safety Executive says employers must take into account six basic factors when deciding whether to keep people in the workplace.  These are; air temperature, radiant temperatures, air velocity, humidity, the clothing employees are expected to wear, and their expected work rate.

Under the Health & Safety regulations, the temperature at work is one of the factors employers have to take into account and may be obliged to carry out a risk assessment and then rectify the situation.

Ultimately, the temperature at work should be “reasonable” when factoring in the type of workplace.

So our job as employers is to keep an eye on the temperatures and do what is reasonable –  relax dress codes, provide fans, have cold water available and tweak working practices where practical.  Overall be sensible and sensitive.

Might things change in the future?

The TUC has called for a maximum workplace temperature of 30C for non-manual work, and 27C for manual work, meaning employees would be automatically sent home if the workplace temperature exceeded it.

The TUC also wants to see an obligation on employers to start taking measures to cool a workplace when it reaches 24C. And while many employers will let staff dress more casually in the summer heat, the TUC wants this written into law.

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