How hot is too hot to work?

Noel Collins - Health and Safety Team Leader

August 10 2022

First published: June 27th, 2018
Last updated: August 10th, 2022

As the country enjoys blue skies, unbroken sunshine, and near-record temperatures, it seems a lot of the hard-working people of Ireland are wondering what temperature the mercury must hit for it to be legally too hot to work.

As an employer, you need to be aware of how hot temperatures can impact your legal duty to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of your employees.

Health and Safety Authority guidance

The Health and Safety Authority has historically responded to temperature-related queries by stating that there’s ‘no maximum allowable temperature’ under health and safety legislation in Ireland.

As a result, both employers and employees are advised to exercise ‘common sense’ in all workplace health and safety matters.

What the law says

Health and safety legislation provides that the temperature in the workplace must be appropriate for the work activity taking place.

In determining what’s appropriate, consider the following:

  • The effects of wearing a uniform or protective clothing required for certain roles.
  • Whether the work is sedentary.
  • Whether there are radiant heat sources or humidity factors.

The maximum temperature question

There’s no maximum temperature specified in health and safety legislation. However, it doesn’t follow that working at all temperatures will be deemed acceptable. Common sense must dictate what temperature is safe for your staff to work in.

Office work guidelines

While there is no maximum, the minimum temperature in an office should be no less than 17.5°C after the first hour of work. Most office employees find the recommended temperature too cold and find 20-23°C more acceptable.

Excessive heat from persistent sun should be prevented by external blinds, low emission glass, or other appropriate equipment. A thermometer should be to hand to allow temperatures to be monitored.

Article: Heatwave: What you need to do to protect your staff

High-temperature work

Workplaces with operations that expose employees to very high or uncomfortable temperatures may require cooling systems depending on individual circumstances.

Hot tips

By following the guidelines below, you can follow a common-sense approach to dealing with any heatwave-related issues:

  • Ensure good management/staff relations through clear communication and agreement with employees on appropriate measures to be taken.
  • Monitor air conditioning, keep windows open, provide fans and generally allow a supply of fresh air to circulate around the workplace.
  • Ensure there’s an adequate supply of cold water available.
  • Provide appropriate rest breaks and job rotation if necessary.
  • Ensure outdoor staff are aware of the risks of working in direct sun and that they wear the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and apply sunscreen as necessary.
  • In office environments, consider relaxing the dress code for employees’ comfort.
  • Ensure outdoor staff do not use high temperatures as justification for removing required safety equipment such as hard hats and steel toe capped boots.

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