HR Articles

Heatwave: Should you send your employees home?

As Britain swelters in the heat, should you send your employees home if the temperature is too hot.  Employees who are working in a range of workplaces from offices, school classrooms and construction are subjected to temperatures which can have a serious impact on their health.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 says that an employer must maintain a reasonable temperature where an employee works, but it does not specify a maximum temperature, with the guidelines stating only that, “all reasonable steps should be taken to achieve a reasonably comfortable temperature”.

Employers are expected to prevent the workplace from being uncomfortably hot and there should also be enough thermometers around the workplace so that the temperature can be regularly checked.  However, the air temperature is only a rough guide because humidity, heat sources and wind speed all have an effect and if employees are complaining about the heat the employer should act immediately, as the effects of overheated workplaces can include, dizziness, fainting, headaches, discomfort and stress, and can contribute to accidents.  Other common medical conditions associated with working in overheated workplaces include asthma, throat infections and rhinitis.

The TUC has called for the introduction of an upper limit on workplace temperature so that employers would be forced to act when the temperature inside the workplace building reaches 24C and for employees to be sent home and their employers prosecuted if temperatures reach 30C (or 27C for those engaged in physically demanding work), so it would be good to hear if the government was to adopt these levels in law.

Rather than having to send employees home a better option for employers is to control high temperatures.  Within the office there are many ways to keep the maximum temperature below 30C by using suitable ventilation and shades. 

Suitable ventilation can be either the use of air conditioning, fans and open windows, which will create a good circulation of air, lower the temperature and keep the air fresh. If you have blinds or curtains shut them to block out the sunlight and although employers are not legally obliged to provide air conditioning in workplaces if you have one switch it on but ensure that it’s maintained and regularly serviced as poorly run air conditioning can lead to increased temperatures and employees can also become ill if the air circulation is not set correctly.

Give employees regular breaks to have cooling drinks especially water, as employers must provide employees with suitable drinking water within the workplace to avoid dehydration.  Also, give them sun screen to protect them from sunburn and allow them to wear a comfortable, appropriate and sensible dress code, such as no ties or suits and try to discourage people from wearing shorts and flip flips until the heat declines.

Wherever possible, employers could rotate jobs in shaded areas, which will give employees a break and to help them recuperate from the heat.

If suitable measures are carried out correctly employees will feel more energetic and less tired and there should be no reason to send anyone home from the workplace.

By Si Harrison

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