The world is getting hotter and that effect is currently being keenly felt across workplaces everywhere. In July 2022 temperatures exceeded a mercury boiling 40°C for the first time in the UK and the signs are that this summer we may be heading that way again. We have already seen the first UK Health Security Agency and Met Office yellow heat-health alert issued this month (9–12 June 2023) and the HSE’s view is that this should prompt employers to take action to protect their employees, whether they work outside or inside.
Contrary to what people may think, there is no legal maximum temperature for workplaces and the onus is on employers to be responsible and sensible. Employees are entitled to a safe working environment and failure to provide such could be enforceable under s2 Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (duty to ensure employees’ safety).
Heat is classed as a hazard and extreme temperatures such as during heatwaves need to be considered, given that the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 impose an ongoing duty for employers to assess and manage risks to health. This requires employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of employees and when necessary to take remedial steps where reasonably practicable.
Obviously, what might be good in cooler temperatures may not be suitable during hotter periods and the first port of call would be for employers to discuss with their employees what changes they can make to positively manage the risk. There is not an expectation that this should require huge expenditure or root and branch changes to the workplace, but simple and cheap measures which may include:
It is clear the working environment is capable of making rapid and effective change as evidenced by the Covid crisis, and many employers are already implementing these cheap and simple measures to address the risks of higher temperatures in the workplace.
Increased temperatures appear here to stay and need to be assessed and managed by employers in the same way as any other workplace hazard. Failure to do so may lead to employers feeling the heat of HSE enforcement.
Partner - Manchester
Health & Safety
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