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Employment

When is it too hot to work? Know your rights

Brits are gearing up for a smoldering Summer with temperatures expected in the early thirties. Here are your rights when it comes to working in the heat

The Met Office has warned that the UK will see some of the hottest temperatures on record for June when the mercury reaches 30°C this week.

While the sunny weather can mean fun in the sun, many people are also figuring out how to cope with the increased temperatures.

As well as stocking up on cold drinks or fans, you may be thinking about how the temperature will affect you at your place of work, whether that’s inside an office or on a construction site

Here’s what you need to know to stay safe while working in the heat. 

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There is no legal minimum or maximum temperature for UK workplaces, however the government’s Health and Safety Executive recommends a minimum of at least 16°C, or 13°C if much of the work involves rigorous physical effort.

It goes on to state: “If a significant number of employees are complaining about thermal discomfort, your employer should carry out a risk assessment, and act on the results of that assessment.”

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How hot does it have to get before you can work from home?

There is no legal requirement for an office to be kept below a specific temperature requirement. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations state the temperature inside workplace buildings must be “reasonable”, but does not specify what counts as reasonable. 

However, it is a legal requirement for an employer to make sure their employees are in a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.

If someone gets too hot they may start to feel dizzy, or could risk dehydration or fainting. However even at lower temperatures, being too hot leads to loss of concentration and increased tiredness, which could cause someone to put themselves or others at risk.

In very hot conditions the body’s blood temperature rises; if it gets above 39°C there is a risk of heat stroke or collapse. Therefore it is reasonable to ask to work from home if the conditions in your workplace could put your health at risk.

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Can you stop working if it’s too hot?

If you are unable to work from home, or your working conditions cannot be changed to account for unreasonable temperatures, it is possible that you may have to stop working to protect your health. 

Independent public body ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) advises that an employee can refuse to work if they reasonably believe that the working environment is not safe. If that employee is then treated less fairly by the employer as a direct result, they could make a claim to an employment tribunal.

What should your boss do if it’s too hot inside the office?

Trade unions have campaigned for a legal maximum temperature for indoor work of 27°C – 30°C, so that employers and workers know when action must be taken.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) is calling for the government to make it a legal requirement for employers to adopt cooling measures when the workplace temperature hits 24°C. Cooling measures could include air conditioning, opening windows, and turning on fans, but if these are unavailable or fail to lower the air temperature, the office may be an unsuitable environment for working in.

“Indoor workers need cool drinks, more frequent breaks, relaxed dress code, along with opportunities to remove and replace face coverings,” said Paddy Lillis, general secretary of USDAW. 

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What should your boss do if it’s too hot to be working outside?

Doing physical labour outside while it is very hot can put the body under considerable strain. There is no recommended maximum temperature for outdoor work, but as with working inside, if you are concerned your health will be at risk, this should be raised with your boss. 

USDAW says that outdoor workers should be provided with sun and heat protection, some sort of shade if possible, suitable clothing, sunscreen of factor 30 or above, water to prevent dehydration and frequent breaks.

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