Branch Secretary : info@housingworkers.org.uk
  

Too hot at work: a union issue

Unbearable

 

Working in sweltering conditions, whether it’s in a baking shop, stifling office or working from home, can be unbearable and dangerous.  

 

 

For the first time, the Met Office have issued an extreme amber weather warning. Forecasters warn temperatures will continue to climb and could reach 33 degrees C (91.4F) in some parts of the country.  

 

Accidents

 

Working in hot weather can lead to dehydration, tiredness, muscle cramps, rashes, fainting and – in the most extreme cases – loss of consciousness. This increases the risk of accidents and mistakes. Prolonged sun exposure puts workers at higher risk of skin cancer. This is why it is imperative that employers make sure their staff are protected from the sun and heat.

 

How employers can help

  • Allowing flexible working: Giving staff the chance to come in earlier or stay later will let them avoid the stifling and unpleasant conditions of the rush hour commute. Bosses should also consider enabling staff to work from home while it is hot. Homeworkers may struggle to work during the hottest parts of the day. Allow for flexible hours so people can work when it’s cooler 
  • Keeping workplace buildings cool: Workplaces can be kept cooler and more bearable by taking simple steps such as opening windows, using fans, moving staff away from windows or sources of heat, or installing ventilation or air-cooling.   
  • Temporarily relaxing their workplace dress codes: Encouraging staff to work in more casual clothing than normal will help them keep cool.    
  • Keeping staff comfortable: Allowing staff to take frequent breaks and providing a supply of cold drinks will all help keep workers cool.   
  • Talking and listening to staff and their union: Staff will have their own ideas about how best to cope with the excessive heat.  
  • Sensible hours and shaded areas for outdoor workers: Outside tasks should be scheduled for early morning and late afternoon, not between 11am-3pm when temperatures are highest. Bosses should provide canopies/shades where possible.  
  • Sun protection: Prolonged sun exposure can be dangerous for outdoor workers, so employers should make sun protection available.  

 

What the law says 

 

There’s no law for minimum or maximum working temperatures. However, during working hours the temperature in all indoor workplaces must be ‘reasonable’. 

 

Guidance suggests a minimum of 16degC, or 13degC if employees are doing physical work but there is no guidance on maximum working temperatures. However employers do have a duty to keep the temperature at a comfortable level and provide clean and fresh air. In particular health and safety reps should be demanding that their employer takes action to ensure "comfortable levels of temperature".

 

 

One way to address this issue would be to demand that the employer amends its risk assessment to take account of high temperatures. A maximum working temperature should be noted. This would signify that working in an environment where the temperature exceeds this level would be unsafe, giving workers the legal right to leave the workplace. For further information please consult your workplace or health and safety rep. If you do not have a rep please contact us direct at the housing workers branch: info@housingworkers.org.uk

  

 

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