The hot weather experienced by much of the UK over the summer has prompted calls by MPs and trade unions for an upper temperature limit for workplaces to be put in place.
Although the law states that staff should work in a “reasonable” temperature, there is no legal limit on the maximum.
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 set a lower temperature of 16°C – or 13°C if the work involves severe physical effort – but there is no comparable upper limit.
An early-day motion by Labour MP Linda Riordan in July called for the law to be changed to make management send workers home if the temperature in their workplace exceeded 30°C.
The early-day motion, which in Parliamentary terms is simply a way of raising the profile of an issue, attracted the support of 17 MPs.
The motion suggested an upper limit of 27°C for those doing strenuous work and also attracted the backing of the TUC.
The TUC in July urged employers to be more flexible around workplace dress codes and called on the Health and Safety Executive to amend its approved code of practice covering workplace conditions to introduce a new maximum legal temperature at work.
The union body, which has online guidance on the issue, pointed out that providing a cool and comfortable environment in workplaces was not just good in terms of health and safety, but also made business sense in terms of ensuring workers were more productive during hot weather.
It outlined six recommendations:
- allow staff to adopt less formal attire in hot weather, with jackets and ties out, and short sleeves, vest tops and shorts in;
- distribute fans to staff and provide portable air-cooling cabinets;
- install air conditioning and maintain it regularly, so that it does not break down during a heat wave;
- allow flexible working so that staff can have the option of coming in earlier and staying later to avoid the sweltering conditions of the rush-hour commute;
- move employees’ desks away from windows, draw blinds or install reflective film; and
- allow staff to take frequent breaks and provide a ready supply of cool drinks.
Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Extreme heat can be just as harmful as extreme cold, and so long as there is no legal maximum working temperature, many of the UK’s workers are likely to be facing conditions that are not just personally unpleasant, but which are also likely to hit their productivity.”