Find out if it is ever legally too hot to be at work

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Avoiding being too hot has been a task and half during the last few days for sure. The sleepless nights and hot, sticky days can make for a torrid affair during the heatwave – in short we aren’t used to it in this country – it’s just not cricket.

If you have an air conditioned car you will no doubt be looking forward to the journey to and from work in Burton and South Derbyshire and when you get to work if your office also has air conditioning then no doubt that will be a breeze too.

But what are the laws when it comes to working temperatures? Is it ever too hot to work? Unfortunately, while there is guidance from the Health and Safety Executive about minimum working temperatures, no such legislation exists for higher temperatures.

Trying to keep cool in the heat (Getty Images)

Here is the guidance issued by the HSE under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which places a legal obligation on employers to provide a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace. The definition of “reasonable” would be very different on a market stall to a bakery. The law does say that if “a significant number of employees are complaining about thermal discomfort” then it’s the employer’s responsibility to carry out a risk assessment and act on its results.

The HSE says employers should base their assessment on the “thermal comfort’ of workers – they say thermal comfort describes a person’s state of mind in terms of whether they feel too hot or too cold”.

The guidelines lay down the six basic factors an employer should look at – air temperature, radiant temperature (the temperature radiating from warm objects), air velocity, humidity, and what clothing or insulation workers are expected to wear, says our sister title the Derby Telegraph.

The more physical work we do, the more heat we produce. The more heat we produce, the more heat needs to be lost so we don’t overheat. The impact of metabolic rate on thermal comfort is critical.

The official HSE guidelines say

Minimum workplace temperatures:

The minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16C, the Approved Code of Practice suggests. If the work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13C. These temperatures are not absolute legal requirements; the employer has a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in the particular circumstances.

Higher workplace temperatures:

A meaningful figure cannot be given at the upper end of the scale. This is due to the high temperatures found in, for example, glass works or foundries.

In such environments it is still possible to work safely provided appropriate controls are present. Factors other than air temperature, i.e. radiant temperature, humidity and air velocity, become more significant and the interaction between them become more complex with rising temperatures.

Risk assessment:

This is down to individual employers and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees, and take action where necessary and where reasonably practicable. The temperature of the workplace is one of the potential hazards that employers should address to meet their legal obligations.

Employers should consult with employees or their representatives to establish sensible means to cope with high temperatures. So the bottom line is – work slower if you’re in danger of overheating or take off some clothes if you can.

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