Heatwave: are you doing enough to protect your staff?

Gavin Scarr Hall - Director of Health and Safety

July 11 2022

This week, the UK is braced for extreme heat.

According to the Met Office, this means that 'substantial changes in working practices and daily routines' are needed. In other words, you need to take steps to protect your staff - or risk putting them in danger.

To discover what this means for your business, read on... 

Remember your duty of care

Legally speaking, there is no maximum temperature that means it's too hot to work.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take precautions. The 'Health and Safety at Work Act' means you're responsible for employee welfare - and since this could suffer during the heatwave, you should take steps to keep staff comfortable.

Otherwise, your workers are likely to suffer low moods, poor concentration, or even dangerous injuries. 

Relax your dress code

Darker materials absorb more heat than lighter clothes. And a heavy or restrictive uniform could cause staff to overheat.

So, if you usually require workers to wear black or multiple layers, consider relaxing this policy while it's hot. If you allow staff to wear looser-fitting and lighter garments, they'll find it easier to keep cool.

And if you usually expect your staff to look smart, it could be sensible to lower your expectations. For example, wearing a tie or a suit jacket could cause your workers to struggle more than they need to. 

Roll out flexible working

The latest HSE guidance says employers should let staff work flexibly where possible.

So, what does that mean for you?

It could mean shifting your employee's hours to avoid working during the hottest times of day. Or, it could mean allowing them to work from home to avoid travelling under the glare of the sun. 

Carry out a risk assessment

To uncover any risks to your workers' safety during the heatwave, you should carry out a workplace risk assessment.

In your risk assessment, you should consider:

  • work environment – temperature, humidity, and your worker’s proximity to heat
  • type of work – how physically demanding the job is
  • clothing – whether your worker’s clothing can protect them from sun exposure and extreme temperatures
  • factors (like age or medical conditions) that might make working in hot temperatures more difficult for certain workers

Once you’ve identified any risks to staff, you can take steps to remove or reduce them. Keep reading to find out how…

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Keep your indoor staff comfortable

There are certain risks to indoor workers during the summer, particularly when the workplace starts to heat up. If your staff work indoors, you have a legal responsibility to make sure the temperature level is ‘reasonable’.

Your workers should be comfortable, so it should never be too hot or too cold. You should also regularly make use of air conditioning or fans where possible.

Plus, try to reposition work stations (like desks) away from direct sunlight to keep your staff out of the glare. 

It’s a good idea to ask your staff how they feel about the temperature. Does anyone complain that the air is too hot or too dry? Check in with them and this will determine whether you need to make changes.

Protect your outdoor workers

Staff who spend long hours working outdoors are more likely to experience sunburn, dehydration, and heat exhaustion. So, it’s important to make sure your staff:

  • take regular breaks – you might want to establish a shaded rest area
  • stay hydrated – you could provide on-site water fountains
  • use high-factor sun cream – preferably a minimum of SPF-15
  • avoid working in direct sunlight as much as possible

Midday is usually when the sun’s rays are at their most intense. If possible, it might be worth adjusting your staff’s working routine so they can work in cooler periods of the day like in the early morning or evening.

Make sure your workers have access to water, protective clothing, and shade. If possible, provide cooling areas such as an air-conditioned rest room or a shaded area. 

But if it’s just not possible for them to avoid the wrath of UV rays, you’ll need to make sure that what staff are wearing can protect them. Which leads on the next point…

Provide suitable clothing and PPE

If your staff are exposed to the sun for too long without protection, they’re at a higher risk of having skin damage and developing skin cancer.

Under the PPE regulations 2022, you have to provide staff with personal protective equipment (PPE) if there’s a risk to their health & safety that you can’t control through other means.

Examples of PPE you could provide include:

  • sun cream
  • UV protection work clothing
  • protective eyewear
  • wide-brimmed hats

You can’t make your workers wear sun cream, but you should provide it and encourage them. There are alternatives that might feel more comfortable than a traditional lotion – like a lightweight sun cream spray, or an alcohol-based cream that’s less greasy.

As well as providing PPE to reduce risks, you should also educate your workers on the dangers of sun exposure. Which is why it’s important to…

Provide training

Make sure your staff understand the risks of failing to protect themselves from sun exposure and why it’s important. In their training, you should:

  • encourage them to regularly check their skin for any unusual-looking dark spots or moles
  • report symptoms or concerns and seek medical advice
  • outline signs of sun damage, heatstroke, and dehydration
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Take allergy precautions

Be aware that staff may have to manage symptoms of summer allergies like hayfever and struggle to work comfortably as a result.

Staff who spend long periods outside are likely to suffer the most. You should also bear in mind that hay fever medication can cause workers to feel drowsy, which poses a safety risk if they operate machinery or drive.

To help manage allergy symptoms for indoor workers, it’s recommended that you:

  • keep your workplace well ventilated – open windows, make use of extractor fans or air conditioning
  • clean the air vents of pollen and dust regularly
  • vacuum and dust regularly
  • keep windows closed in the early morning/late afternoon when pollen levels are highest

Don’t fear HSE, make summer stress-free with Peninsula

You don’t need to feel hot under the collar when Peninsula’s there to cool you down.

Your health & safety experts are on hand 24/7 to advise you on the best ways to protect your staff and keep you safe and successful all year round.

And if you’re not yet benefiting from Peninsula’s services, don’t miss out on unlimited HR and health & safety support. Whatever your query, get in touch on 0800 028 2420 for a free advice call with one of our experts today.

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