With temperatures soaring and no sign of an end to these wonderful hot days of summer, employees and employers are both feeling the strain. For absolute clarification …… there is no legal maximum working temperature and to this point, a group of MPs now want to introduce a maximum working temperature of 30 degrees (lowered to 27 degrees for strenuous jobs).
So how practical is such a proposal and what would its impact be on businesses?
There are some employees who are constantly working in high temperatures regardless of the weather outside. Chefs, metal workers and miners all work in hot environments and although there are health and safety precautions in place, the work still needs to be done.
So what about an office worker or a retailer assistant, could they be sent home when it reaches 30 degrees? What would happen to businesses? With a law that sent people home when the temperature rose, businesses would not be able to operate and would face closure. Is that practical for ice cream shops, beach side cafes and outdoor entertainment facilities such as theme parks and zoos who would all do there best business on hot sunny days? It certainly isn’t practical to have a law for some businesses and not for others perhaps based on location or products.
Employees in hot countries such as Spain and Italy work in the heat on a regular basis and although concepts such as siestas and long lazy lunches are a familiar tradition, these are increasingly being phased out in multinational companies where they need to work with the rest of the world.
Air-Conditioning as standard also makes the heat more bearable in some countries, but there are many workers who would not be able to benefit from such facilities and they would be expensive to install and run for small companies in the UK.
What can employers do to reduce the impact of the heat?
There are several cost effect steps employers can take to tackle short term heat problems (and being the UK, this will be short term):
- Where possible, relax the dress code. Clearly communicate what is acceptable and what is not.
- Ensure that blinds are drawn to keep out the sun as much as possible (also make sure there is no glare on monitors)
- Once the sun has moved to another side of the building, open windows and keep interior office doors open to help the flow of air around the building
- Ensure there is cold water available for staff, either in a fridge or in a water cooler if the tap water is not cold enough. Staff should also be encouraged to bring in their own supplies.
- Encourage regular breaks and perhaps increase the number of breaks or the length of breaks
- Enable staff to move around a little more if they are usually sat in one place
- Consider earlier starts or later evenings with longer breaks so that people aren’t travelling in the rush hour and working in the heat of mid day (how very Mediterranean)
- Purchase some fans to increase air flow
Employees must take practical steps to ensure their safety.
As with all things health and safety, employees do have a duty to look after themselves at work and discuss any concerns with managers in a practical way. Not turning up for work due to the weather or its effects (dehydration, lack of sleep, too much sun) is not acceptable, and an organisation has the right to discipline staff it believes have not taken reasonable steps to be at work. Staff must:
- Ensure that they take on sufficient water during the day
- Dress appropriately for business and the temperature
- Pre-book any time off during the summer, phoning in on the day is not acceptable
- Ensure that any food they eat at BBQs is properly cooked!!!
- Ensure that alcohol consumed out of work does not impact time at work in any way. As well as alcohol consumption increasing in the summer, the heat intensifies the impact it has on people.