How hot can the weather get before you can legally stop working

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When will it be hot enough for you legally be able to leave work?

As temperatures spike in Hull and the East Riding this week, with the hot weather set to continue for sections of the weekend, the team have taken a look at the rules.

Although The Health and Safety Executive have not given a maximum or minimum temperature for the workplace as some places always have very high temperatures – such as glass works and foundries.

But, for those who don’t work in those kind of conditions, here is what they have said about how hot is too hot to work.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 lay down particular requirements for most aspects of the working environment. Regulation 7 deals specifically with the temperature in indoor workplaces and states that:

‘During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.’

The meaning of ‘reasonable’, of course, would be very different depending on the workplace.

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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’.

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It adds:

  • Environmental factors (such as humidity and sources of heat in the workplace) combine with personal factors (ie your clothing) and work-related factors (how physically demanding your work is) to influence your ‘thermal comfort’.
  • Thermal comfort is very difficult to define as you need to take into account a range of environmental, work-related and personal factors when deciding what makes a comfortable workplace temperature.
  • The best that you can realistically hope to achieve is a thermal environment that satisfies the majority of people in the workplace. Thermal comfort is not measured by room temperature, but by the number of employees complaining of thermal discomfort. To better understand why room temperature alone is not a valid indicator of thermal comfort.

A HSE spokesperson said: “As an employer you should be aware of these risks and make sure the underlying reasons for these unsafe behaviours are understood and actively discouraged and/or prevented.”

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The guidelines lay down the ‘six basic factors’ an employer should look at. They are air temperature, radiant temperature (ie, the temperature radiating from warm objects), air velocity, humidity, and what clothing or insulation workers are expected to wear.

They say: “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.”

So it’s kind of official – you are allowed to work slower if you’re in danger of overheating!

It’s not all down to your bosses though. The guidance says that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect people to adapt their behaviour to cope with their thermal environment, eg adding or removing clothing, choice of heating, moving to or away from cooling/heat sources etc.

They add: “The problems arise when this choice (to remove a jacket, or move away from heat source) is removed, and people are no longer able to adapt. In some instances the environment within which people work is a product of the processes of the job they are doing, so they are unable to adapt to their environment.”

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