With the recent heatwave, where temperatures across the UK reached over 40 degrees Celsius, just behind us, it is worthwhile considering the current legal position in respect of working temperature, and what we could see going forward as temperatures continue to rise.
Currently, there is no law in place that stipulates what temperature is too hot to work in. With no safeguards in place, employees could be forced to work in unbearable conditions that could damage their health. Rather unhelpfully, the government recommends a ‘comfortable’ temperature with access to fresh air, whilst the Health and Safety Executive guidance states that the temperature should be ‘reasonable’.
Employers do have a duty of care towards employees to protect their health and safety. However, in terms of temperature, this could be difficult to oversee if there is a lack of guidance about what is and is not acceptable from a health and safety perspective.
Recently, one of the UK’s major trade unions, GMB, has joined the call for a maximum temperature of 25 degrees Celsius to be imposed, whilst TUC, another Union, has suggested that work should stop once the temperature reaches 30 degrees Celsius, or 27 degrees Celsius when undertaking strenuous work. This call has been backed by a number of MPs.
However, it has been suggested that adopting a blanket approach will not be suitable for the wide range of industries that it would impact. Clearly, an acceptable temperature is going to vary depending on several factors including what work is being done and where.
Instead, it has been proposed that a better way to deal with this issue is by carrying out risk assessments on individual employees and workplaces, with minimising exposure to heat in mind. It is likely that any guidance issued will make distinctions between different types of work and workplaces.
Whilst there is a current backlog of proposed employment legislation, if temperatures increase and workers continue to struggle to cope with the heat, it is likely that this issue will be pushed further up the government’s agenda and addressed.
In the meantime, employers might consider ways to assist employees should there be another heatwave, such as allowing them to work from home (to avoid the commute) or allowing them to work flexibly to avoid working during the hottest part of the day.
If you require any advice on measures that can be put in place during a heatwave, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the employment team at Glaisyers ETL: firstname.lastname@example.org