The UK is currently facing a period of record-breaking heatwaves. Experts expect these temperatures to continue year on year. This begs the question what are employers’ obligations in the heat?
The UK does not have any statutory limits on maximum temperatures in the workplace. Health and safety law states that employers are obliged to keep the temperature at a comfortable level, and that they must provide clean and fresh air. The Health and Safety Executive guidance does acknowledge that temperature is a potential hazard for employees. They suggest a minimum of 16C, or 13C if employees are involved in physical work. They explain that it is difficult to set a maximum temperature because of the large variety in workplaces and that it is possible for high temperatures to be safe for employees as long as appropriate measures are in place.
In July this year both the GMB and TUC have called on the government to set a maximum temperature in the workplace. The TUC has proposed that workers should be allowed to leave if indoor temperatures reach 30C or 27C if the job is physically demanding. Whereas the GMB proposes the maximum indoor temperature should be 25C.
The GMB also suggested some adjustments that employers could put in place when temperatures are high, such as allowing flexible working, extra breaks, providing access to water, and relaxing dress codes.
Internationally, maximum indoor workplace temperature laws are rare. For example the UAE, where temperatures can reach 50C in the summer months, there is a ban on outdoor work during the hottest times of the day. A similar restriction is not imposed on indoor workers. However, in Spain offices must be between 17 and 27C.
It has been suggested that the temperature proposals by the unions are rigid and unhelpful. There is such a huge variation in types of workplace and the emphasis should be more on how the employees feel as opposed to applying a blanket maximum temperature. Reasonable adjustments should definitely be considered, but this should be done in accordance with the usual procedure of conducting workplace risk assessments. The laws as they stand require employers to keep temperature comfortable and they must ensure that this is monitored regularly.
If you have any questions on any of the issues mentioned in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.