The summer heatwave of 2018 has hit the headlines for so many reasons. It is perhaps the fact that is has been so prolonged that has taken us all by surprise, not least employers who have to deal with cries of ‘it’s too hot to work’ from their staff.
So, is there actually a temperature limit when it comes to working conditions? And can employees officially cry off when the mercury rises to a certain point? A summer heatwave can be a bone of contention for any employer, so let’s take a look at some of the most common issues that arise when things really start to hot up in the workplace.
Is there a maximum working temperature?
There is a benchmark that suggests people work best in a temperature range of between 16 and 24 degrees Celsius. It may however come as a surprise to many employees that there is in actual fact no fixed minimum or maximum temperature limit for the workplace. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) does state that the working temperature should be ‘reasonable’ depending on the type of work and the workplace.
The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers recommends temperatures for a range of working environments. These include 20 degrees Celsius for offices and dining rooms; 18 degrees for shops and hospital wards; 16 degrees for factories where light work is involved, and 13 degrees for heavy work in factories. However, there is no set legal limit.
Employers should therefore observe the guidelines, and be reasonable in their approach. Remember that morale is important, but there should of course be limits to your reasonableness. For example, if your office is air-conditioned, the temperature outside should not really factor.
The daily commute
There is no real excuse for staff to avoid travelling to work during hot weather. Public transport does of course hit challenges when extremes of weather come into play, so if your employees genuinely cannot make it into work because of cancelled trains or issues on the roads, you will need to be prepared with a policy on commute-related absence.
Taking care of your workforce during a heatwave is the responsible thing to do as an employer. Ensure there is access to plenty of cool drinking water and encourage staff to drink clear fluids in place of coffee and other caffeine-containing drinks. Bear in mind that the average recommended daily water intake increases during hot weather. Remind everyone to steer clear of heavier meals and stick to lighter snacks, and of the merits of staying in the shade rather than using a lunchbreak to top up the tan. There is no harm either in swapping the cake run for an ice-lolly run!
If you have employees who may be particularly susceptible to the heat then you’ll need to take special measures. Anyone suffering from medical conditions, who is pregnant or who is taking medication may require rest breaks more frequently. You may need to provide personal fans if there is no air conditioning, or relocate affected staff to cooler areas if they are situated in especially warm spots such as close to windows. If your workforce has to wear personal protective clothing that may be difficult to work in under high temperatures, you’ll need to give that consideration too, as you would any personnel who work outdoors and may be exposed to the risks of skin cancer, sunburn and sunstroke.
If you operate a strict dress code, you may consider a dress-down period during the hot weather to make things more comfortable for your staff. Clients and visitors will no doubt understand your decision, and your people will thank you for the temporary relief.
Introduce a heatwave policy
If you do not have a clear policy in place concerning extreme weather, it’s time to draw one up. Cover everything from heatwaves to blizzards and you’ll be prepared for everything. It is important that employees are aware of protocol in such situations, and it will assist with consistency too. Once a policy is in place and there are set rules, no one can claim unfair treatment.
If you are unsure how to deal with heatwave related situations arising this summer, why not talk to your local bookkeepers? They will help you work out whether your staff should be paid for any unplanned leave taken related to the weather and should be able to steer you in the right direction in creating a heatwave and weather policy.