Boiling Britain

Unless you have spent the last few days hiding under a rock, you will have noticed that the UK has been hit by a heatwave, with temperatures exceeding 36 degrees in many regions.

While some of us will be enjoying the rising temperatures, many of us will be working in the sweltering heat. To help you keep your cool whilst at work, we have outlined some advice and guidelines from the HSE below:

While there is no law for maximum working temperatures in offices or similar environments, employee are covered by the Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992, which place a legal obligation on employers to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace.

In hot conditions, employers are obliged to:

  • Keep the temperature at a comfortable level, sometimes known as thermal comfort
  • Provide clean and fresh air
  • Provide access to fresh drinking water

If your job involves extreme temperatures

In some workplaces, extreme temperatures are not seasonal but are created by the work environment e.g. manufacturing  When teamed with a heatwave, these temperatures can lead to serious health implications if not managed effectively.

In such environments, it is still possible to work safely provided appropriate controls are present. Some useful considerations for employers to implement where appropriate are outlined below: 

  • Providing fans, e.g. desk, pedestal or ceiling-mounted fans
  • Opening windows (where appropriate)
  • 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, e.g. cold water dispensers (water is preferable to caffeine or carbonated drinks)
  • Introducing formal systems of work to limit exposure, eg flexible working patterns, job rotation, workstation rotation etc
  • Placing insulating materials around hot plant and pipes
  • Providing air-cooling or air-conditioning plant

When working outdoors extreme weather can influence an employee’s effectiveness and have an impact on their health. This impact may be immediate or it may occur over a prolonged period.

 In these circumstances some of the most effective ways of managing these environments are to introduce some simple controls including:

  • Rescheduling work to cooler times of the day
  • Providing more frequent rest breaks and introduce shading to rest areas
  • Providing free access to cool drinking water
  • Introducing shade in areas where individuals are working
  • Encouraging the removal of personal protective equipment when resting to help encourage heat loss
  • Educating workers about recognising the early symptoms of heat stress

Working directly in the sun

Too much sunlight is harmful to your skin. It can cause skin damage including sunburn, blistering, skin ageing and in the long term can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the UK with over 50,000 new cases every year.

A tan is a sign that the skin has been damaged. The damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight.

Who is at risk?

If work keeps you outdoors for a long time your skin could be exposed to more sun than is healthy for you. You should take particular care if you have:

  • Fair or freckled skin that doesn’t tan, or goes red or burns before it tans
  • Red or fair hair and light coloured eyes
  • A large number of moles

Heat stress in the workplace

Get your free guide from the HSE here