With temperatures set to hit 37oC in parts of the UK this week, the TUC is today (Wednesday) calling on employers to allow flexible working and to keep workplaces cool so staff can work as comfortably – and safely – as possible.
The TUC says bosses can help their workers by:
Allowing flexible working: Giving staff the chance to come in earlier or stay later will let them avoid the sweltering and unpleasant conditions of the rush hour commute. Bosses could also let staff work from home where possible.
Keeping their buildings cool: Workplaces can be kept cooler and more bearable by taking simple steps such as having windows that can be opened, using fans, moving staff away from windows or sources of heat, or installing ventilation or air-cooling.
Temporarily relaxing their workplace dress codes: Encouraging staff to work in more casual clothing than normal – leaving the jackets and ties off and wearing lightweight clothes instead – will help them keep cool.
Keeping staff comfortable: Allowing staff to take frequent breaks and providing a ready supply of cold drinks will all help keep workers cool.
Talking and listening to their staff: Staff will have their own ideas about how best to cope with the excessive heat.
The dangers of hot workplaces
Hot workplaces are more than just an issue about comfort, warns the TUC. High temperatures mean workers are at risk of:
dizziness, fainting, or even heat cramps
loss of concentration and increased tiredness, and
an increase in the likelihood of accidents due to reduced concentration, slippery, sweaty palms or people ditching uncomfortable safety gear.
There’s no law for minimum or maximum working temperatures. However, during working hours the temperature in all indoor workplaces must be ‘reasonable’.
Guidance suggests a minimum of 160C, or 130C if employees are doing physical work. And 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 to introduce a new maximum indoor temperature, set at 300C – or 270C for those doing strenuous jobs – with employers obliged to adopt cooling measures when the workplace temperature hits 240C.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “While many of us love to see the sun, it’s no fun working in a baking office or a stifling factory. Bosses should do all they can to keep the temperature down.
“The easiest way for staff to keep cool inside is being able to work in more casual clothing. While shorts and vest tops may not be appropriate for all, nobody should be made to suffer in the heat for the sake of keeping up appearances.
“It's in bosses’ interests to provide a cool and comfortable work environment. Workers who are unable to dress down in lighter clothing, or who work in offices without air-conditioning, fans or drinking water, are going to be tired, and lack inspiration and creativity.”
- Although the law states that staff should work in a reasonable temperature, the TUC says there is no legal maximum. Employees in indoor workplaces are not expected to work when the temperature drops below 16OC (or 13OC if they are do physically demanding work), but there are no similar restrictions for when the workplace becomes too hot. The TUC would like to see the law changed so there is an absolute indoor maximum of 30OC, with employers required to introduce cooling measures when the temperature hits 24OC.
- For more information about health and safety law on temperature please visit: https://www.gov.uk/workplace-temperatures
- The TUC’s advice on how to handle working through a heatwave is at: www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/TemperatureGuide.pdf
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.
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