Workplace temperatures: Is it too hot to work yet?

Outsource Safety LtdSafety newsWorkplace temperatures: Is it too hot to work yet?
July 13, 2022 Posted by Roger Hart

At this time of the year, we get calls from clients, website visitors and other contacts about the heat and how this links to health and sworking temperaturesafety.  Is it too hot to work is a question that we have answered many times in the past and the truth is that we don’t have a limit set in legislation.

You may be familiar with the lower temperature limits which have been set at 13oC for active workers and 16oC for sedentary (seated) workers but there is no accepted equivalent for higher temperatures.  HSE has even produced a FAQ to cover the questions raised on temperatures here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/faq.htm  and unions have long campaigned in vain for some limits (typically a max. of 30oC) to be set for office and similar workers: https://www.unison.org.uk/news/article/2019/07/hns-heat/  However, we are still at a position where no higher limit applies.

You may still have questions on this and so at this time (and temperature) you may want to consult HSE’s guidance here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/index.htm You may even want to set an upper limit in your own workplace if that’s appropriate.  There’s some good guidance on how temperatures affect worker productivity here: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/toohottoocold.aspx but what we can’t do is tell you that one piece of information you really want to hear because there is no limit on an upper temperature in the workplace.

Guidance:  Think about fans, cool drinks, taking a break in a cooler area, staying out of the sun, starting earlier and other good practical solutions.

Staff using PPE in hot weather conditions: Where personal protective equipment (PPE) is required it can cause heat stress due to its weight and the fact that it prevents sweat evaporating from the skin. In these situations employers should:

  • permit work to occur at a slower rate
  • rotate staff out of this environment on a more frequent basis
  • allow longer recovery times before permitting re-entry
  • provide facilities for PPE to be dried so that it can be worn again for re-entry
  • consider scheduling work to cooler times of the days
  • periodically revisit your risk assessment to consider if the process could be automated or alternative systems of work/controls can be introduced
  • re-evaluate your PPE as newer PPE may be lighter and provide improved levels of protection and operator comfort

Staff with a hormonal imbalance (menopause, thyroid or similar): Applying the control measures described on these webpages should be sufficient to ensure the welfare of those affected. While there’s no requirement on employees to disclose conditions that may affect thermal comfort, if an employee chooses to do so then it may be that the temporary measures described on these webpages could manage their thermal comfort.

Staff working outside in higher temperatures:

  • reschedule work to cooler times of the day
  • provide more frequent rest breaks and introduce shading to rest areas
  • provide free access to cool drinking water
  • introduce shading in areas where individuals are working
  • encourage the removal of personal protective equipment when resting to help encourage heat loss
  • educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of heat stress