Heatwave raises issue of maximum working temperature
The July 2019 heatwave in the UK has raised concerns for people working at extreme temperatures outside and reignited the debate on whether there should be a legal maximum temperature.
Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, has suggested that employers need to relax their dress codes to enable employees to work in lighter clothes, but obviously high visibility protective workwear will still have to be worn. He also suggested that working hours could be flexible to avoid having to work during the hottest times of the day.
Some MPs and trade unions have suggested that there should be a maximum workplace temperature, with 30°C proposed (27°C for manual workers). The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has suggested that temperatures suitable for working in the range from 13°C to 30°C, but there is no maximum temperate defined by law.
In September 2018, the government asked for recommendations on the issue of high temperatures from the NHS, representatives of the transport infrastructure and local authorities. The scientific guidance the government received pointed out that temperature is only one factor, with humidity, radiant temperature and air velocity all having a significant effect on working conditions as well.
Employers are required to look at all factors when assessing the health and safety risks of working in high temperatures. The HSE advises:
“The temperature of the workplace is one of the potential hazards that employers should address to meet their legal obligations. Employers should consult with employees or their representatives to establish sensible means to cope with high temperatures.”