Life's a beach


Date: 10 August 2009

With the UK experiencing a heat wave, we look at some issues when it gets too hot. Although a trip to the beach seems a very tempting option, it's not practical as a lifestyle choice for most people!

As we head into August and the weather in the UK is expected to turn warmer, managing temperatures in the workplace can become an issue. Did you know that natural water losses from a body in warm weather can be a couple of pints per hour? Although a trip to the beach is a tempting option, it’s hardly practical so here are some top tips for managing heat in the workplace:

  1. provide a ready supply of cool water (free of charge) to avoid dehydration
  2. use blinds/screens to block direct sunlight on workstations/people where possible
  3. encourage/allow more frequent breaks
  4. use fans (where safety permits)
  5. check staff fridges and food storage areas are clean and cool to avoid food poisoning outbreaks
  6. agree change of working hours to cooler times (if the work permits)
  7. relax of dress code/uniform code
  8. arrange working at home (if home is cooler)

For many years there have been 'minimum temperature' rules in place for most indoor workplaces (16°C), although there was never any maximum one. The current basic rule about workplace temperature is that "the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable".

The 1999 guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) mentions 30°C as an upper limit for thermal comfort, but duration and nature of activity are both factors in deciding where the limit of reasonableness lies. High temperatures often bring high tempers, and bullying and harassment claims can soar with the temperature.

Some people are calling in sick and heading for the beach. Your normal absence management procedures will apply to this. A newly acquired sun tan will be a great giveaway! As long as the workplace is open and offering an appropriate working arrangement, there is no reason for you to pay staff to be on the beach unless they have booked leave.

Risk Assessments

If your work processes normally involve the generation of heat (or working in cold environments), then your risk assessments should deal explicitly with temperature issues.

Pregnant and disabled workers

Your risk assessments should also take account of pregnant women and disabled workers whose disabilities might impair their ability to control their own body temperature, or put them at unusual risk of damage through heat. You may need to make this assessment now if your workplace is not air conditioned.

Journey to and from work

The journey to work itself can be just as hot and hazardous to those at particular risk, and you should find out how pregnant or disabled heat affected staff are travelling to work. Adjusting start and finish times may help if they want to do this.

Outside workers

For people working outside, topics like sunburn also become an issue, and the provision of shade (where practicable), hats, long sleeved uniforms and sunscreen should be considered.

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy. Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060

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