Heat Stress and the Workplace

When is it too hot to work?

This summer’s heatwave is great for BBQs, festivals and beach holidays, but normal activities like sleeping and work can be difficult and, in some cases, dangerous.

Working in hot weather, extreme heat and exposure to high temperatures in the workplace can be uncomfortable, and it can also lead to dangerous levels of heat stress, dehydration - even heat stroke.

For some jobs and workplaces, such as hot kitchens or bakeries, plumbers working in boiler rooms or those that work with glass furnaces, heat exposure is an all year round issue. For many, however, working in stuffy offices or outdoors can become a real problem in this summer’s UK heatwave and may mean that it is just too hot to work.

Heat illness and the effects

Heat stress can affect people in numerous ways, and some are more susceptible to it than others.

Some typical symptoms are:

  • An inability to concentrate
  • Muscle cramps
  • Heat rash
  • Severe thirst - a late symptom of heat stress
  • Fainting

Other symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, nausea, headaches or moist skin might mean you’re suffering from heat exhaustion, while signs of heat stroke include hot dry skin, confusion, convulsions and eventual loss of consciousness. This is the most severe disorder and must be taken seriously as it could result in death if not detected and treated early - make sure you seek medical attention straight away if you experience one or more of the symptoms listed above.

What is the workplace temperature law?

It’s worth knowing what the office temperature law is, as working in hot weather can lead to many risks. 

Unfortunately, a legal maximum working temperature doesn't exist. However, according to the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers must carry out regular risk assessments for the health and safety of their employees. The workplace temperature is one of the potential hazards that employers must assess when doing them.

The regulations also state that employers have a legal duty of care to make sure the temperature is at a reasonable level in the office and that the 'thermal comfort' is managed so all staff are comfortable in terms of temperature. 

Heat stress

Not only do we sweat more in hot conditions, we also try to cool down by removing our clothing, drinking cool fluids, fanning ourselves, sitting in the shade (if we can), and/or reducing our work rate. However, in many workplaces, such adjustments may not be possible.

Usually, you may not be permitted to leave work unless you feel unwell and need to take sick leave, but you may be allowed to change your work clothes, if appropriate. Not everyone can switch to wearing shorts and flip-flops though, as your employer is still entitled to have a certain dress code in the workplace – particularly for customer-orientated roles and for safety reasons, such as work shoes or protective clothing.

Cute Injury

During times of hot weather and uncomfortable working conditions, employers must be considerate to employees – after all, if staff are too hot, they're unlikely to be at their most productive.

If you have suffered because of the heat in your workplace and your employer hasn't taken actions to reduce the risks, contact us today for advice and information on how we can help you, or share our article on social media to spread awareness of heat in the workplace to other employers and employees.

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