Working Safely When the Temperature Rises

While there’s a minimum workplace temperature that you can legally work in, there’s unfortunately no upper limit, and if you’re anything like most Brits, you’re likely to have been sweating buckets at work during this spell of warm weather.

Most people work comfortably at temperatures between 16 and 24 degrees, although this depends on the kind of work you’re doing. If your job is strenuous, you’re likely to fare better in lower temperatures than someone who is sat at a desk.

Temperature recommendations:

The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers recommends these temperatures for workplaces:

Strenuous work in factories: 13°C

Light work in factories: 16°C

Hospital wards and shops: 18°C

Offices and dining rooms: 20°C

If workplace temperatures are too hot, people can become fatigued, dizzy, faint, and get cramps. In extremely high temperatures, heat stroke and even organ damage can occur. In excessively hot environments, tiredness and lower concentration means that workers are more likely to put themselves or others at risk.

The law on workplace temperatures

An employer must legally provide a working environment which is, as far as is reasonably practical, safe and without risks to health. Although there are no maximum legal workplace temperature limits, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations state that the temperature inside workplace buildings must be ‘reasonable’. The code of practice to these regulations gives some examples of steps employers must take to make workplaces reasonably comfortable, including:

Insulating hot plants or pipes

Providing air cooling plants

Shading windows

Situating workplaces away sources of radiant heat

If these measures aren’t enough, employers must install fans or increase ventilation.

Working in indoor heat: safety tips

  • Introduce air conditioning if possible
  • Relax the dress code: do employees really need to wear suit jackets and ties in the height of summer?
  • Rethink the work area: Move workstations away from windows or install blinds to keep a workplace cool.
  • Install fans or open windows: These might not be effective in very high temperatures though.
  • Be flexible: Allow staff to finish earlier or later so they can avoid hot, sticky commutes and allow them regular breaks to rest and rehydrate.

At risk professions

Workers in factories, mines, boiler rooms, kitchens and laundries are at particular risk of heat stress or dehydration. Workers should be given information on how to recognise both, and a professional heating and ventilation engineer should be contacted to survey the building and make recommendations on how heat can be managed.

Working outdoors: safety tips

Outdoor workers are at risk of skin cancer, dehydration, heat stress, fatigue, and fainting. Drivers are at risk, especially if they become fatigued or dizzy due to the heat when they’re at the wheel. Employers should provide workers with air conditioned vehicles and advise them to refrain from driving in very hot weather.

Outdoor workers should be issued with sunscreen, hats and light protective clothing. They should also be allowed regular rest breaks and access to water. Ideally, work should be organised so it’s not done at the hottest time of the day.