Hot Weather – Health and Safety at work
As the UK braces itself for scorching temperatures across the country, it is important for all businesses and their employees to know the correct health and safety procedures when working in hot weather/environments.
Whilst there are legal limits on minimum temperatures in the workplace, surprisingly there is no specific maximum temperature limit. However, this does not mean employers should be oblivious to the effects of heat.
What is the Law?
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess the risk to health and safety of their employees arising out of the work activity including the environment in which it takes place to determine the precautions they need to take to protect employees’ health and safety.
The Work Place Health Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992 require that the workplace shall be maintained at a reasonable temperature and that a drinking water supply must be provided. Adequate provision must be made for ventilation by fresh or artificially purified air.
Regulation 7 of these Regulations deals specifically with the temperature in indoor workplaces and states that: “During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.” What is “reasonable” will depend on the nature of the work carried on.
Precautions to take
In non air conditioned environments, employers should consider practical common sense steps to alleviate problems caused by working in hot weather. This could include:-
- Providing cooler “refuges” where breaks can be taken away from the heat.
- Modifying dress codes, being wary of and alive to any potential claim including for indirect sex discrimination.
- Considering flexible working arrangements where employees can work from home, where appropriate
- By law, a drinking water supply must be provided. Persons carrying out manual labour in the heat should drink 8 pints per day and a further pint for every hour worked. The importance of regular drinking of water should be made clear to staff.
Can employees leave their workplace if they feel uncomfortable/unwell working in extreme heat conditions?
An employee has the legal right not to be subjected to any detriment on the ground that:
- In circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which he could not reasonably have been expected to avert, he left (or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to his place of work or any dangerous part of his place of work; or
- In circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent, he took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect himself or other persons from the danger.
The key to establishing such protection would be for an employee to establish there were “circumstances of danger”, and secondly, the employee must reasonably believe these circumstances to be serious and imminent. It is quite possible that in extreme heat conditions employees could avail themselves of this right, particularly if they suffer from a medical condition or disability that makes them more susceptible to heat. Such conditions could include things which are otherwise more manageable but which become potentially exacerbated by the heat such as asthma or hay fever.