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HSE Urges Employers to Ensure Workplace Temperatures are “Reasonable” During UK’s Heatwave

HSE Urges Employers to Ensure Workplace Temperatures are Reasonable During UK’s Heatwave
11 August 2020 | Updated 20 August 2020

One of the most common workplace grievances is around comfortable working temperatures, and never more so when in the midst of a heatwave.

As the UK looks set to experience highs of up to 33°C for the most part of this week, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is reminding both the office-based and remote workforce to take the appropriate precautionary measures.


Is it Ever Too Hot For Work?


Whilst there is no legal maximum safe working temperature, a workplace must be deemed comfortable and “reasonable” according to the HSE.

When looking at workplace comfort the following factors should be considered:


  • Air temperature – The temperature of the air surrounding the body
  • Radiant temperature – The heat that radiates from a warm object. Radiant heat may be present if there are heat sources in an environment e.g. electric fires, ovens, dryers, hot surfaces and machinery
  • Air velocity – The the speed of air moving across the employee. This is an important factor in thermal comfort for example: still or stagnant air in indoor environments 
  • Humidity –  If water is heated and it evaporates to the surrounding environment, the resulting amount of water in the air will provide humidity. This is particularly important when employees are required to wear PPE
  • Clothing insulation – Thermal comfort is very much dependent on the insulating effect of clothing on the wearer, and It is important to identify how the clothing contributes to thermal comfort or discomfort
  • Work rate/metabolic heat – This particularly applies to employees doing physical work. The more physical work we do, the more heat we produce. A person’s individual characteristics must be considered when it comes to metabolic heat, e.g. weight, age, fitness level and sex


How can Employers Help With Thermal Comfort During a Heatwave?


The HSE recommends that you can help ensure thermal comfort in warm conditions by using the following methods (many of which can be applied to those working from home too):

  • Providing fans, eg desk, pedestal or ceiling-mounted fans
  • Ensuring that windows can be opened
  • Shading employees from direct sunlight with blinds or by using reflective film on windows to reduce the heating effects of the sun
  • Siting workstations away from direct sunlight or other situations or objects that radiate heat (eg plant or machinery)
  • Relaxing formal dress code – but you must ensure that personal protective equipment is provided and used if required
  • Allowing sufficient breaks to enable employees to get cold drinks or cool down
  • Providing additional facilities, eg cold water dispensers (water is preferable to caffeine or carbonated drinks)
  • Introducing formal systems of work to limit exposure, e.g. flexible working patterns, job rotation, workstation rotation etc
  • Placing insulating materials around hot plant and pipes


What About Air Conditioning?


The potential aerosol transmission of coronavirus and therefore the critical role of adequate ventilation in keeping public places COVID-secure is now well recognised. When you add an air conditioning system that may have been unused for several months during the lockdown, facilities and workplace managers are right to be cautious about reestablishing HVAC systems. 

Before a workplace is reoccupied, it is essential that there is a thorough re-evaluation of air conditioning and ventilation systems. This has been endorsed by bodies such as the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE).

Picture: A photograph of a desk fan 

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 11 August 2020


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