Many people often wonder what duties are on employers when the weather reaches the extremes of hot or cold. How hot is too hot and how cold is too cold to reasonably be expected to carry out your work duties?
The symptoms of heat stress include impaired concentration, headaches, muscle cramps and fainting. However, heatstroke is the most severe outcome and can result in a coma and, in extreme cases, can sometimes be fatal.
In the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, employers are obliged to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace. The Health and Safety Executive(HSE) provide guidance which suggests the minimum temperature should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius but that if the work involves rigorous physical effort the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius. There is no defined maximum temperature.
Solicitors come across the word “reasonable” every day in different areas of law and is a word that provides flexibility in the obligations provided by employers.
Would it be possible to make a claim for an injury at work based around the temperature in your workplace?
It would depend on all of the circumstances. The regulations will accept that at times temperatures will go very high or very low; think of the very high temperatures in foundries and the very low temperatures in refrigerated rooms, as well as extreme weather conditions. Occasionally requiring employees to experience these extremes is unlikely to be considered unreasonable.
In addition to the other guidelines above, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees, and take action where necessary and where reasonably practicable.
Heat stress occurs when a person is unable to control their temperature regulation system. It is particularly common in hot working conditions like a manufacturing plant, bakery or laundrette. The nature of this kind of work means that it is not possible to remove the heat source and naturally cool down. Heat stress can have a serious effect on employees in certain jobs and can lead to accidents and, in some extreme cases, death.
As such, in some work environments, the temperature of the workplace is a potential hazard that employers should consider to meet their obligations. Employers should consult with employees to establish sensible means to cope with high temperatures as with other risks.
The HSE has developed guidelines for employers on how to manage and assess the risks of heat stress. It also gives guidance on heat reduction methods. These include:
- mechanical assistance to reduce the rate of work
- regulation of heat exposure periods
- the provision of cool water
- effective staff training
In other words, whilst the majority of us are struggling with the hot weather in our working environments and dreaming of spending the time on the beach, it is unlikely that this unusually hot weather will lead to injury at work due to the negligence of your employers. It is however, important to bear in mind that, in certain types of working environment and when temperatures reach extremes, employers do need to be giving due consideration to any factors they can implement to make the working environment more comfortable.
At Jordans Solicitors we understand that having an accident at work as a result of an employer’s negligence can be a rather worrying time, you need help and support to make a full recovery as soon as possible. We have a dedicated team of lawyers able to assist you in pursuing a claim for compensation with offices across Yorkshire in Dewsbury, Horsforth, Selby and Wakefield.