As temperatures rise during what might be some scorching summer months, it's essential for both employers and employees in the UK to be aware of the laws that govern working in hot weather.
What laws cover working in hot weather?
The main piece of legislation that focuses on the concerns of working in hot weather in the UK is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. This act places a general duty on employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees while they are at work and requires employers to assess and manage risks, which includes those related to working in extreme weather conditions.
What does the law say?
Unlike some countries that have strict maximum temperature limits for workplaces, the UK actually does not specify a particular temperature at which employees must stop working. Instead, the law emphasises the need for employers to take action if the workplace becomes uncomfortably hot.
Employers should provide a "reasonable" working temperature and ensure that it does not pose a risk to employees' health. What constitutes a "reasonable" temperature depends on the nature of the work and the type of workplace and is for employers to essentially decide. This is set out within the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations.
We do have some guidance on cold temperatures, as a rule of thumb, guidance suggests that the minimum temperature people should work at in the UK is 16ºC or 13ºC if employees are doing physical work.
Is a New Law Coming?
In 2022 the GMB Union said workers should not have to contend with temperatures any higher than 25C when working.
A number of MPs recently backed a campaign for a legal upper limit of 30C in most workplaces or 27C for those doing strenuous work but the government has not responded.
Do I have to do risk assessments?
Employers have a legal obligation to conduct regular risk assessments, including assessments related to working in hot weather. The risk assessment should identify potential hazards posed by high temperatures and outline measures to control and mitigate these risks. The HSE website has loads of super useful guides on carrying out risk assessments, you can have a look here for some templates and useful guidance; https://www.hse.gov.uk/simple-health-safety/risk/risk-assessment-template-and-examples.htm and there's some information on heat stress here; https://www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/employer/heat-stress.htm
Employers should also provide employees with things to help make working in the heat more palatable which could include:
Allowing for more flexible work schedules, such as starting work earlier or finishing later to avoid the peak heat of the day.
Offering rest breaks in shaded or cooler areas to help employees cool down and prevent heat-related illnesses.
Providing suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) that does not exacerbate heat stress.
Encouraging employees to wear appropriate clothing for hot weather, such as light-coloured, loose-fitting attire.
Some individuals may be more susceptible to heat-related issues, such as pregnant women, older workers and those with certain medical conditions. Employers should make sure they bear in mind that each individual may be affected by the heat differently and make sure they're supporting their people.
Can employees leave work if it's too hot?
Slightly fluffy HR answer here but probably not unless you're in immediate danger or are unwell. Employees have the right to work in a safe environment, free from the risk of harm due to extreme temperatures. If they feel that their employer is not taking appropriate measures to protect them from heat-related risks, they can raise concerns through the company's internal channels or contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the UK's health and safety regulator. They could also in extreme circumstances leave work but they'd need to prove they had to do this to protect their health and obviously, as a good employer, companies should do everything in their power to protect employees in the workplace. Employees could state that extreme heat made them feel they were in imminent danger to justify leaving work but given we rarely experience heat in the UK that could cause imminent danger employees might find it hard to get this argument off the ground.
You can see some information from the Government here: https://www.gov.uk/workplace-temperatures#:~:text=There's%20no%20law%20for%20minimum,for%20a%20maximum%20temperature%20limit.
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All information within the post is provided for guidance only; always seek your own legal advice.
The information with this post was correct at the time of publishing, March 2023 but may be subject to change.