Employers should look to take steps to ensure their workforces are not sweltering in the heat as temperatures soar across the UK, says a leading law firm.
They need to be proactive where possible and look at measures such as providing fans, cold water, staggered working hours and relaxing the dress code, said Vanessa Bell, partner and head of employment law at Ipswich-based Prettys.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, there is no law for a minimum or maximum working temperature.
Louise Plant, senior associate and head of personal injury at Prettys, said: “Although there seems to be a ‘gap’ in legislation when it comes to extreme weather conditions at work, both employers and employees need to balance what companies need to carry on their business, whilst ensuring they mitigate the health and safety risk of working in hot temperatures.”
And both Vanessa and Louise suggested employers should consider the following:
1. Communicate with staff
“Employees are likely to communicate their concerns if they are struggling and employers should consider if these are reasonable,” said Vanessa.
“Whether or not those concerns are reasonable, could take into account a number of factors, including (and most importantly) the type of work, the working environment, and what’s reasonably practicable for the company based on its size and turnover.
“If employees are genuinely feeling unwell from the heat, they should inform their employer that they are unable to work and require sick leave.”
2. Have a risk assessment in place
Temperatures should be kept at a reasonable level as far as possible. Employers should bear in mind the six basic factors of thermal comfort: air temperature, radiant temperature, air velocity, humidity, clothing insulation and metabolic heat.
Louise said: “If employers feel there is a potential risk to health and safety, they need to evaluate the situation and are expected to have a risk assessment in place for extreme weather conditions.”
3. Adapt to create more comfortable conditions
Although there is no legislation with regards to working temperatures, employers have a moral responsibility to consider conditions ahead of the warmer weather and Vanessa explained the small adjustments that can be made company-wide.
“Heat can affect productivity levels, so taking practical steps to ensure your employees are comfortable is important. You could provide portable air con units, fans or even extra chilled water facilities where possible.”
4. Offer flexible working arrangements
“Companies may consider flexible hours or working from home if weather or working conditions are such that the temperatures are unbearable. However, this will naturally depend upon whether the needs of the business can accommodate these adjustments.
“In any event, employers need to be aware of more vulnerable workers, including older staff and pregnant women who may need to take more frequent and longer rest breaks.”
5. Revise dress codes
“Employers can also consider modifying their dress code requirements in warmer weather. However, the extent to which dress codes can be relaxed will of course depend on the type of business and whether employees have customer-facing roles requiring certain standards of appearance.
“Certain footwear or clothing may also be required for health and safety reasons. Furthermore, when considering dress codes in a workplace, employers should ensure that rules are not more stringent for one sex compared to another.”
Vanessa concluded that having little legislation in place should not mean employers feel they do not need to take any action. “Preparation and adaptability will reduce the risk of sickness absence and exhaustion plus ensure staff stay motivated even in the stuffiest of situations.”
"Heat can affect productivity levels, so taking practical steps to ensure your employees are comfortable is important."
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