With blazing temperatures sweeping the UK, MPs have warned that the current heatwave could become the new normal for our summers by 2040. Workplaces can become uncomfortable in this heat and, some argue, downright dangerous. So what are your workplace rights when the mercury rises?
Members of the Environmental Audit Committee claimed today that heat-related deaths could treble, reaching the thousands by 2050 unless the government takes action. The group of MPs say that the country’s adaptation to searing heatwaves has now become “a matter of life and death”.
Ministers are being called upon to ensure people are protected, with the parliamentary group making clear that businesses need to keep workplaces safe, and stop employees from overheating.
With suggestions that temperatures could hit 37C in parts of the country during the current heatwave, what are your rights for staying safe and cool in the workplace?
Workplace Temperatures – The Law
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Temperatures in indoor workplaces are covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
The government makes clear that indoor workplace temperatures must be “reasonable” during working hours, with guidance on minimum temperatures suggesting a low of 16C, or 13C if employees are doing physical work.
When it comes to higher temperatures, although there is currently no guidance, health and safety at work law says that companies have to keep the temperature “at a comfortable level”, and provide clean and fresh air to your workspace.
The Health and Safety Executive say that a “meaningful” figure can’t be given for a top temperature because of the workplace environments found in industries such as glass works or foundries. In places like this, they say, it’s possible to work safely “provided appropriate controls are present.”
Despite the lack of strict limits, it’s important to talk to your employer if you’re finding the heat too much.
Adapting to the ‘New Normal’
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The Environmental Audit Committee’s report predicts that the higher temperatures which caused over 2000 deaths in the 2003 heatwave will become the summer norm by the 2040s. They’ve called on the government to adapt to these changes.
They say businesses should be made aware of both the threat of heatwaves and the economic consequences, and want Public Health England to issue “formal guidance to employers” to relax dress codes and allow flexible working during these spells.
MPs have also requested the government to consult on introducing maximum workplace temperatures, in particular for work that involves significant physical effort.
The higher temperatures which caused more than 2000 deaths in 2003 will become the summer norm.
Environmental Audit Committee
The report comes days after the Trades Union Congress (TUC) also called for a change in the law to set out a clear maximum limit for how hot it can get in the workplace.
They claim that “millions of people are being forced to work in temperatures that are not only uncomfortable, but downright dangerous,” with workers risking their health and experiencing “dizziness, fainting, or even heat cramps.”
The TUC want indoor workplaces not to exceed 30C (or 27C for strenuous work), with employers “forced to introduce cooling measures” when the temperature hits 24C.
The government are due to “carefully consider” the report out today. In the meantime, talk to your employer, stay cool and safe, but you may not be able to take a day off just yet…