With the country in the grip of a heatwave, staff in workplaces across the land will be asking themselves: “I know the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (SI 1992/3004) provide that by law employers must provide a “reasonable” temperate in the workplace… but what is “reasonable”?

This is the burning question which unfortunately does not have an easy answer. There is a recommendation in the Approved Code of Practice that the minimum workplace temperature should be 16C (and 13C for labour intensive work) but this is only a recommendation and it does not address the maximum temperature.

This is intentional with the fear being that if a maximum temperature were set it would cause disproportionate problems and costs for particularly hot workplaces, such as steel foundries and glassworks. The Trade Union Congress has called for a maximum temperature of 30C (and 27C for labour intensive work) but this idea does not appear to have set the world on fire just yet.

The absence of a maximum temperature does not mean that employers should be unconcerned. In addition to the above Regulations requiring a “reasonable” temperature in all workplaces inside buildings during working hours, there are a host of other health and safety regulations covering everything from protective equipment to manual handling.

In the end it is perhaps not the health and safety regulations which are the main incentive for employers to take action but instead the simple point that if the heat is such that it is too hard to work then staff will not work hard. If it is too hot, concentration and productivity will drop. Mistakes and accidents will happen. To address this there are a number of steps employers could consider making, including:

  • Relaxing the dress code while still maintaining a professional appearance.
  • Encouraging staff to drink water regularly.
  • Opening windows and doors.
  • Installing blinds to protect staff from direct sunlight.
  • Rearranging desks to cooler parts of the workplace.
  • Purchasing fans. Should the budget allow consideration could also be given to installing air conditioning or insulating hot pipes.

These practical and cost-effective measures could help boost staff morale and productivity, while at the same time demonstrating what action an employer has taken in the event of a claim.


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