Heatwaves in the Workplace

 

The Met office released a report this week, stating that June 2023 has been the hottest ever June on record for the UK. This report, coming after last year’s record breaking 40-degree heatwave, speaks volumes to how quickly we are feeling the effects of climate change.

The report shows that temperatures last month rose to an average mean of 15.8 degrees Celsius. This means that it surpassed the last recorded hottest June by 0.9 degrees Celsius, whereas prior to this, the top three hottest Junes on record were only separated by 0.1 degrees Celsius.

In the UK our buildings are usually not equipped to deal with such high temperatures. This often means when there is a heatwave we feel it inside as well as out, and when we have to go to our workplaces, it can be unbearable.

As we have entered July, we can only expect that another heatwave is on the horizon. With hotter temperatures becoming the norm, it is important that employees and their employers are aware of their rights and responsibilities with regards to working in hot weather.

Do I have to go to work?

The short answer is yes. Currently there are no laws in place in the UK which state that workers must be sent home if temperatures reach a certain limit.

However, The Workplace Regulations 1992 state that employers must ensure that temperatures in the workplace are “reasonable”. So, although you can’t contest coming into work due to the heat, you can bring up your right to work in a reasonably cool environment, if you feel those rights are being breached.

If you feel this way, you can request a thermal risk assessment. If an employer receives multiple complaints from employees regarding uncomfortable temperatures in the workplace, then they must carry out one of these risk assessments.

This assessment can either result in workers being sent home due to unreasonable temperatures, being moved to an alternative place of work if possible, or being told to stay as the temperature is deemed acceptable.

How can employers help?

It is an employer’s duty to make sure that workers can complete their work in a safe and comfortable environment.

Ways to ensure a comfortable working environment when indoors include ensuring there is air conditioning and/or adequate fans. Workers must also have access to cold water. If this indoor work requires manual labour, then sufficient water breaks must be allowed.

If employees must work outside, then lots of breaks and water is necessary, to avoid illnesses such as sun-stroke.

If we are due another heatwave, it’s important to note that the hottest hours of the day are usually between 11am-3pm. If possible, employers should be flexible with working hours and work around these times for employees who must work outside.

What can employees do?

It has been proven that opening the windows in hot weather can heat up a room, as it lets the hot air in. So, we advise employees to keep office windows closed and instead use the air conditioning or fans to cool down.

If you feel the temperature has risen to an unsafe level, then request a thermal risk assessment from your employer, as mentioned above.

Employees who must work outside are advised to regularly apply sun cream and take frequent water breaks, out of the sun.

What happens to the work dress code?

Before you sign your employment contract you will have seen a copy of your employee dress code.

Although it is becoming increasingly more common for workplaces to adopt a ‘dress down’ dress code, a lot of companies still require employees to wear either office attire or a uniform.

If this is the case, it is important to speak to your employer about your dress code during a heatwave before assuming you can dress down, otherwise this may lead to disciplinary action.

We advise employers to consider relaxing dress code rules during a heatwave, to allow for people to wear more comfortable clothing for the temperature.

One example of this would be, if employees work outside in the sun, allowing them to wear hats to keep the sun out of their eyes.

Small gestures such of these show employees that you care about their well-being and can be flexible in extreme temperatures.

Flexible working

If you really feel that being in your place of work is uncomfortable in extreme heat, then you are within your right to speak to your employer about the possibility of flexible working or working from a different location. It might be that you would rather work at home for the duration of the heatwave, in which case, speak to your employer and see if this would be possible.

Often for people who commute to work on public transport. Heatwaves can induce stress and anxiety, as you start and end your working day in extreme heat in often cramped places. This can negatively affect a person’s job performance and well-being, so flexible working may be deemed necessary.

Mulderrigs is now a part of the Farleys Solicitors family, which means we can offer a full range of legal services. Our team of employment law experts can advise you on any issues which may arise in the workplace as a result of adverse weather. Call us today on 0800 0523 693 or contact us by email.