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Feeling hot, hot, hot – maximum temperatures and the workplace

Posted
August 8, 2022
Employment Law

As the thermometers registered record temperatures last month, our thoughts turned to one question; how hot is ‘too hot’, when it comes to the workplace?

What does the law say?

A number of myths have arisen over the years around the notion that there are strict maximum and minimum temperatures beyond which employees cannot be required to work.  In reality, there are no such restrictions currently in place. Instead, the law is much harder to pin down and generally requires employers to provide a ‘reasonable’ workplace temperature.  What is ‘reasonable’ will depend on the circumstances of each case.

Some useful guidance

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that employers should consult with employees (or their representatives) to establish the means to cope with high workplace temperatures. Within its Approved Code of Practice (https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/l24.pdf), the HSE says that if the temperature becomes too high, employers should take ‘all reasonable steps’ to achieve a comfortable temperature.  This could involve regular monitoring, with the assistance of thermometers located around the workplace. In areas where the temperature could become uncomfortable, employers may need to take steps to address the problem by, for example, (i) providing fans (or other air cooling equipment), (ii) shading windows and (iii) taking other reasonable steps aimed at cooling the work environment.

Time for change?

With experts predicting an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events here in the UK, a question arises as to whether the existing legal framework is sufficient to keep people safe. Certainly, the trade unions (and some Labour MPs) have renewed calls for clearer maximum workplace temperatures. The TUC has suggested a maximum indoor temperature of 30°C (or 27°C for more strenuous jobs). The GMB has gone a step further, arguing for a maximum temperature of 25°C. 

We suspect the law is likely to remain unchanged for the foreseeable future. But if the impact of climate change becomes more acute, could the arguments in favour of greater regulation become overwhelming?

Want to read more?

If you would like to read a little more about this issue, why not take a look at this article, to which our Head of Employment Law, James Willis, recently contributed:

https://www.raconteur.net/workplace/how-hot-is-too-hot-to-work-uk-heatwave/

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