Toggle high contrast

Is it too hot to work?

Published date
With temperatures set to rocket to highs of 32°C in parts of the UK this week, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has issued a heat-health alert.

While many will welcome the sunshine and warmer weather, spare a thought for those who will have to work in sweltering conditions in kitchens, factories, shops and offices around the country.

Working in really hot premises can be unbearable and dangerous. You might be surprised to know that while staff are not expected to work when the temperature gets a tad chilly and drops below 16°C (or 13°C if they are do physically demanding work) there are no similar restrictions for when the workplace becomes too hot.

Working in hot weather can lead to dehydration, muscle cramps, rashes, fainting, and – in the most extreme cases – loss of consciousness. Outdoor workers are three times more likely to develop skin cancer.

What does the law say

There’s no law on maximum working temperatures. However, during working hours the temperature in all indoor workplaces must be ‘reasonable’.

Employers have a duty to keep the temperature at a comfortable level and provide clean and fresh air.

The TUC would like to see a change in the law so that employers must attempt to reduce temperatures if they get above 24°C and workers feel uncomfortable. And employers should be obliged to provide sun protection and water. We would like ministers to introduce a new absolute maximum indoor temperature, set at 30°C (or 27°C for those doing strenuous jobs), to indicate when work should stop. We need a maximum working temperature now - Sign the petition

With climate change bringing higher temperatures to the UK, the government needs a plan on how to adapt and keep workers safe.

8 steps employers can take to keep work cool

  1. Sun protection: Prolonged sun exposure is dangerous for outdoor workers, so employers should provide sunscreen.
  2. Allowing flexible working: Giving staff the chance to come in earlier or stay later will let them avoid the stifling and unpleasant conditions of the rush hour commute. Bosses should also consider enabling staff to work from home while it is hot.
  3. Keeping workplace buildings cool: Workplaces can be kept cooler and more bearable by taking simple steps such as opening windows, using fans, moving staff away from windows or sources of heat.
  4. Climate-proofing workplaces: Preparing our buildings for increasingly hot weather, by installing ventilation, air-cooling and energy efficiency measures.
  5. Temporarily relaxing their workplace dress codes: Encouraging staff to work in more casual clothing than normal – leaving the jackets and ties at home – will help them keep cool. 
  6. Keeping staff comfortable: Allowing staff to take frequent breaks and providing a supply of cold drinks will all help keep workers cool.
  7. Talking and listening to staff and their union: Staff will have their own ideas about how best to cope with the excessive heat.
  8. Sensible hours and shaded areas for outdoor workers: Outside tasks should be scheduled for early morning and late afternoon, not between 11am-3pm when UV radiation levels and temperatures are highest. Bosses should provide canopies/shades where possible.

New guidance for union reps

This interactive guide is for union members and reps who want to learn about the actions they can take to guard against extreme temperatures in the workplace and contribute to the fight against climate change. This guide will:

  • explain the law on working temperatures
  • give an overview of who is most at risk
  • suggest some of the ways to tackle this problem.

Watch this video where the panel discuss what reps can do to ensure their employers assess risks and introduce any necessary prevention or control measures in the workplace. 

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).

Setup now