Britain’s Summer Heatwave: How Employers Can Help Their Staff

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The current heatwave hitting the UK is expected to last for at least another two weeks. While there is no legal maximum temperature in the workplace, employees need to be comfortable to be at their best.

The summer sun has helped to lift spirits across the nation, with many heading to the coast or out into the countryside in their leisure time to make the most of the extended spell of warm weather.

However, while many people rejoice, others are finding it more difficult to cope in the heat.

Warm temperatures at night are keeping many people awake, and oppressive heat can also make people drowsy and less productive during the day – a double whammy.

What is the law regarding workplace temperature?

While there is a recommended legal minimum workplace temperature of 16C (or 13C for more labour-intensive work), there is no maximum temperature stipulated by law. All the law says is that employers must provide employees with a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace.

This is because work environments vary greatly, from standard shops and offices through to garden centres, glassworks, commercial kitchens and other places where heat is generated as part of workplace activity. It is therefore difficult to gauge a ‘maximum’ temperature that is suitable for all businesses.

What can employers do to help?

There are obvious ways in which employers can make their staff more comfortable during periods of hot weather, including:

  • Installation of air conditioning units for enclosed spaces (such as shops and offices), ensuring these are serviced if already present and available for use
  • Providing desk or pedestal fans in spaces without air conditioning
  • Ensuring a plentiful supply of drinking water, to avoid dehydration or heat exhaustion
  • Considering relaxing any company ‘business attire’ dress code, especially for staff who are not customer-facing
  • Encouraging regular periods of rest where appropriate (e.g. after an intensive spell of work in a hot warehouse)

Spotting the signs of dehydration

Dehydration occurs when individuals do not take on board enough fluids to replace the water their body loses naturally. To prevent this, government guidelines suggest drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day. However, this can vary from one individual to the next and depends on the amount of exercise you do on a given day, so it is not a hard and fast rule.

Those suffering from dehydration will experience some, or all, of these symptoms:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Sleepiness or tiredness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth

Don’t ignore this – encourage employees exhibiting such signs to rest and recover before resuming their duties.

As always, prevention is better than cure. Keep drinking water regularly – even if you don’t necessarily feel thirsty. In hot weather, many times, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is mistaken for hunger. Be sure to keep drinking water even if it feels like you’d just like a snack; however, do snack rather than eat heavy meals, and eat foods high in water content, such as fruit and vegetables.

Outdoor workers can be more susceptible to issues

Outdoor workers are naturally more exposed to the heat and sun. They should ensure their clothing protects them not only from the harmful rays of the sun, but also from insect bites, stings and ticks, so should be suitably covered in comfortable, lightweight clothing.

Wearing appropriate sunscreen for your skin type and UV-absorbent sunglasses can help to prevent damage to the body from exposure to the sun. Wearing insect repellent should help to deter ticks, bees and wasps from coming into contact with you, too.

As with indoor workers, hydration is important, so drink water frequently and avoid coffee or fizzy drinks where possible.

Further help and advice on managing risks

It's in everybody's interests to remain comfortable during the current heatwave. Workers who are not subject to the worst effects of extreme heat will be happier and more productive than those suffering in the same weather conditions.

Where your duties as an employer are concerned, you must adhere to the Workplace Regulations, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which state that employers must make a suitable assessment of the Health and Safety risks posed to employees in their working environment, and act ‘where necessary and where reasonably practicable’.

If you need any assistance in ensuring you are meeting with these regulations, the risk management team at Bollington are available to offer bespoke help and advice if required. Call 0161 929 1851 if you would like to take advantage of this service.