With no sign on the horizon of a reprieve to the current heatwave (reputedly nicknamed Lucifer), employers may be concerned as to how the rising temperatures in the work place affect their obligations to employees.
Whilst the Health and Safety Executive, in an Approved Code of Practice, sets out minimum working temperatures of 16 degrees (unless vigorous activity is being performed where the minimum temperature drops to 13 degrees), there is currently no upper limit. The HSE explain that some workplaces, such as glassworks and foundries, have consistently high temperatures which would render an upper limit useless. Instead, the HSE advises that it is up to the employer to deal with the management of risk and risk assessment in the usual way. For instance, in the case of a job where a worker is required to wear personal protective equipment, an employer may be required to carefully consider the risks in heat-wave conditions.
The Trade Union Congress has weighed in on the discussion, stating that the workplace temperature should not exceed 30 degrees, or 27 degrees for strenuous work. But the chances of this becoming a legal requirement seem remote.
A working party of MPs has very recently proposed that employers should be issued with formal guidance on employees welfare in extreme heat conditions which might include, for example, relaxation to dress code and flexible working. Where significant physical effort is involved, it clearly makes sense for the risks from excessive temperatures I the work place to form part of any issued guidance.
The effect of the prolonged spell of hot weather this summer may mean that the HSE will consider issuing guidance in the form of an Approved Code of Practice if these types – and especially so if this type of summer becomes the norm. But such guidance does not currently exist.
A look to our European neighbours might provide some useful guidance. Spain, for example, has strict policies whereby temperatures must be between 17 and 27°C where sedentary work is taking place, and between 14 and 25°C for light physical work. Conversely, in France, the policy appears to mirror that of the UK with an absence of upper-temperature limit and an emphasis on common sense risk assessment.
As one might expect, in the United Arab Emirates where temperatures reach 50 degrees, the government imposed a ban in 2012 on outdoor work between the hours of 12 noon and 3 pm.
On the other hand, since the last prolonged period of hot weather in the UK that anyone can remember was in 1976, that translates into, to date no more than two extended spells of very hot weather in a working lifetime.
Perhaps we need to wait and see what the summer of 2019 has in store for us?
How can Gotelee help?
Understanding health and safety law is vital for any organisation.
While most employers have a grasp of their key responsibilities, there are many areas of the law that are much less straightforward – like the rules around temperatures and dress codes.
Our specialist solicitors in Ipswich, Hadleigh, Felixstowe and Woodbridge act for businesses large and small in Suffolk, Essex and further afield and can guide you through the regulatory minefield.
To find out how Gotelee can help your organisation, call Hugh Rowland, Regulatory Enforcement Partner on 01473 298140 or Andrew West who heads up our Employment Law Team or email firstname.lastname@example.org or Andrew.West@gotelee.co.uk .