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M&E Companies Must Protect Workers from Extreme Heat Stress

M&E Companies Must Protect Workers from Extreme Heat Stress
26 April 2023

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is urging employers to take steps to prevent heat stress and dehydration in their workforce.

2022 was the sixth-warmest year on record based on data from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2022 also saw Britain experience its first Red extreme heat national severe weather warning and data suggests that the UK had made little progress in making the adaptations needed to fully prepare for climate change risks.


"Adapting industries to, and preparing them for, a warmer world will be essential for the future successful functioning of societies of all nations.”

–Dr Tim Fox

Lead author of the report


No Upper Temperature Limits Set by HSE


The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is calling for guidance related to heat impacts on the workforce to be updated urgently to help companies to develop strategies and implement changes to their workplaces. This will require updating existing infrastructure, revamping design codes and safety policies and a commitment to net zero outcomes, sustainability and resilience. In the UK the Health and Safety Executive has set minimum workplace temperatures for the indoor workplace but does not have similar upper temperature limits.

Excessive heat stress and dehydration can cause people to behave unsafely and make poor decisions. For example, in hot environments, workers may be tempted not to wear personal protective equipment properly leading to greater safety risks. Heat may also affect a worker’s ability to concentrate on a given task through decreased cognitive function, increasing the chances of errors and reducing productivity.

In the report, “Adapting industry to withstand rising temperatures and future heatwaves” the institution looks at the importance of preparing for a warmer world to ensure buildings and equipment continue to operate efficiently and avoid shutdowns, while protecting workers against high temperatures.

Dr Laura Kent, Public Affairs and Policy Advisor at the Institution said: “We acknowledge that it would be difficult for the Health and Safety Executive to set a meaningful upper temperature limit due to variations between industries in both working conditions, required PPE and workload. However, HSE guidance needs to be updated to support sectors and industry in the development of appropriate strategies.

Thermal comfort is very important in a workplace and if it is not achieved morale, productivity, health and safety will all likely deteriorate. People need safe spaces to work and be productive.”


Adapting the UK’s Building Stock


The report notes that one of the main challenges will be to adapt existing building stock to the warmer climate which saw temperatures hit a new record of over 40 degrees last summer in the UK. Ruth Shilston, a Fellow of the institution who contributed to the report believes that owners and operators of facilities need to take climate change risk seriously and carry out audits of heat risk for infrastructure.  She added that companies face massive financial risk if factories and plants have to shut due to heat.

Speaking on the eve of publication, Dr Tim Fox, former Chair of the Institution’s Process Industries Division and lead author of the report, said: “The impacts of a warmer world on industry will be complex and broad, including technical, economic and health-related, and the implications of the findings of this report are applicable across the globe. Adapting industries to, and preparing them for, a warmer world will be essential for the future successful functioning of societies of all nations.”

Picture: a photograph of a person holding a protective hard hat in their hand. A construction site can be seen in the background. Image Credit: Adobe Stock

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 26 April 2023


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