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BLOG: Too hot to work?

Man suffers from heat in the office

Even though most of us love a bit of sunshine, with temperatures set to rise above 30 degrees this week, the thought of going to work brings a feeling of dread.

There are no current laws stating a temperature which is ‘too hot to work’ in the UK, so we must soldier on, but how can conditions be more comfortable?

Although there is no maximum temperature to which employees have to work, an employer does have obligations under health and safety legislation to ensure that temperatures are kept at a comfortable level for its staff.

Can I go home if it’s too hot?

Health and Safety Regulations simply require workplace temperatures to be ‘reasonable’. If the temperature becomes too high it can become a health and safety issue, which may lead to risks of dehydration, fainting, or heat cramps. Employers are encouraged to educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of heat stress.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) says: “An employer must provide a working environment which is, as far as is reasonably practical, safe and without risks to health. In addition, employers have to assess risks and introduce any necessary prevention or control measures.”

For indoor workers, employers need to provide adequate ventilation, frequent rest breaks and free access to cool drinking water; while outdoor employees should have their work rescheduled to cooler times of the day and should be encouraged to remove any personal protective equipment (PPE) when resting.

Employers should also ensure that they make reasonable adjustments for those employees who may be at greater risk in the warm temperatures due to certain medical conditions.

The TUC has called for a maximum temperature of 30°C (27°C for those doing strenuous work), so that employers and workers know when action must be taken.

What can I wear for work when it’s hot?

Employers often have a dress code in the workplace for reasons of health and safety, corporate identity or because the industry demands it. A dress code can often be used to ensure workers are dressed appropriately. However, as the warm weather continues it can be difficult to decide what clothes to wear for work.

According to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), while employers are under no obligation to relax their dress code or uniform requirements during hot weather, some may allow workers to wear more casual clothes, or allow “dress down” days.

This does not necessarily mean that shorts and flip flops are appropriate, rather employers may relax the rules within parameters such as the wearing of ties or suits.

Employers also need to be mindful of sex discrimination in respect of dress codes; it is important employers don’t fall into the trap of relaxing the dress code for women but not affording similar to men in respect of long-sleeved shirts and ties.

So what’s the upshot?

The current heatwave, although intensely hot, will fade after the next two weeks, so, as long as your employer is making working conditions bearable, we must adopt the great British slogan – ‘keep calm and carry on’.

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