Getting hot under the collar

The hot summer months can make life very uncomfortable for office, factory and other workers. So how do companies fulfill their legal obligations on working conditions and prevent tempers soaring along with the thermometers?
Warm weather is good news if you have booked time off work to coincide with the sunshine, but not so welcome for the hundreds of thousands who will be sweltering in sticky offices, shops, kitchens and factories.

Experts are warning employers that they will need to keep staff cool and comfortable.

According to Johanna Burns of the National Britannia Group, a health and safety consultancy, employers are legally obliged to maintain a comfortable temperature in the workplace.

“While the law doesn’t state a maximum reasonable temperature, employers are expected to take steps to deal with situations where the temperature is unbearably high,” she said.

However, there is lack of clarity on what constitutes a ‘comfortable’ temperature. Recent research revealed that differences of opinion on how hot an office should be often led to disagreements, with one in four employees admitting that they had argued with their manager over the subject.

“The World Health Organisation recommends a maximum air temperature of 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) for workers to work comfortably. At temperatures above this people start to suffer from loss of concentration, increased accidents and loss of productivity,” said Burns.

People who already work in hot conditions are at an increased risk of heat exhaustion when the thermometer mercury creeps up, with cooks, bakers and foundry workers most vulnerable.

Office workers can also suffer major problems in the heat, with concentration lapses leading to accidents and injury, and prolonged periods at computer stations causing stress, tension, headaches and eye strain.

People who deal with the public such as retail, bank and NHS staff can also be exposed to increased levels of violence, as tempers soar along with temperatures.

Burns said employers are legally obliged to provide thermometers to allow the temperature to be monitored, and urged managers to take steps to improve conditions during stifling hot spells.

“There are a number of simple measures that can help such as installing portable air conditioning units and fans, relaxing strict dress codes and providing cold drinks,” she said.

She warned out that if employers are not reasonable, they may face severe consequences. “Those who do not comply with legislation may face claims for compensation, and suffer from higher absenteeism and lower productivity. This can be avoided by taking sensible measures to overcome the effects of hot weather.

“We would advise people concerned about their working environment over the coming weeks to talk to their managers or safety representative to make sure they are complying with the law,” she said.

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