Is there such a thing as too hot to work?

Peninsula Team

August 06 2015

It’s mid-summer and there is a real risk of sizzling temperatures between the cold wet spells we have experienced recently. It’s the time of the year when our 24 Hour Advice Line receives numerous calls about the maximum permissible working temperature. It happens every year, and the advice is always the same. There is no set maximum working temperature, although there are many calls for one to be set. The Health and Safety Workplace Regulations simply require that ‘during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.’ The Approved Code of Practice that sits alongside the regulations gives some explanation. Unless it is impractical because of hot or cold processes, it states that the temperature in workrooms should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing. The Code of practice explains that 'in the UK an acceptable zone of thermal comfort for most people lies roughly between 13°C (56°F) and 30°C (86°F), with acceptable temperatures for more strenuous work activities concentrated towards the bottom end of the range, and more sedentary activities towards the higher end.' Unfortunately, a temperature comfortable to one employee may not be comfortable to another. Thermal comfort, as it is known, is a psychological state of mind subject to environmental and personal factors; these include air temperature, radiant heat, air movement, humidity, clothing and metabolic heat (the energy input to the work). As a rule of thumb, where 80% of the workforce find the temperature comfortable or acceptable and there are no other obvious and reasonably practicable measures that could be taken, the Health and Safety Executive will not require further action. During the occasional, short-lived heat waves we experience in this country it may not always be possible to achieve a reasonably comfortable temperature throughout a work room. If this is the case, local cooling may be the answer; and in extremely hot weather fans and increased ventilation may be used. However, if excessive temperatures are a year on year problem, employers should be looking towards the longer term introduction of physical control measures. In some premises the provision of air cooling or air conditioning plants can sometimes be achieved quite quickly and at low cost. In others, it will be a longer term project, especially where premises are leased or shared. It may be simpler, however to manage your way through the occasional hot spells where temperatures make working an uncomfortable experience. Simple solutions are often the most effective and will include;
  • Insulating hot pipes or equipment.
  • Providing fans, e.g. desk, pedestal or ceiling-mounted fans.
  • Ensuring that windows can be opened (where possible).
  • Shading employees from direct sunlight with blinds or using reflective film on windows to reduce the effects of the sun.
  • Sitting workstations away from direct sunlight or other objects that that radiate heat (e.g. plant, machinery).
  • Allowing sufficient breaks to enable employees to get cold drinks or cool down.
  • Providing cold water dispensers (water is preferable to caffeine or carbonated drinks).
  • Relaxing a formal dress code.
  • Altering the working day, where possible, starting and finishing earlier than normal to avoid peak afternoon temperatures.
  • Relocating staff or workstations. Remember that some people will be comfortable in higher temperatures than others, they may be happy to work at a workstation that another person finds too hot.
  • Rotate jobs so that everyone has a short spell working in uncomfortable temperatures before moving on to a cooler workstation.
Finally, remember that if personal protective equipment is required for a task, it is not permissible for its use to be abandoned simply because it is too hot. Other ways of maintaining the workers thermal comfort will be necessary.  For further clarification on this issue please contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.  

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