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Too Hot to Work?

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Every year we get periods of extreme temperatures.  Although 2021 is not a ‘normal’ year as far as workplaces are concerned, an employer has the same obligations towards staff welfare.

The question all employers should be considering (and employees will be asking) is:

Is it too hot to work?

So, we have to consider whether there is a maximum working temperature.  This being a temperature above which it is not acceptable for employers to expect employees to work (and employees should expect to have to work in).

As usual, I head straight for the legislation which, as you would expect, differs depending on whether you are in Great Britain or Northern Ireland:

  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 in Great Britain, and
  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993

However, in both pieces of legislation, it is Regulation 7 that says:

During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.

So, what does reasonable actually mean?  The next step is to look at the guidance on this legislation, found in the relevant Approved Codes of Practice on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Health and Safety Executive (Northern Ireland) (HSENI) Websites.  Whilst the Websites may be different, the guidance is the same: 

‘The temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius. If work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius’

In short, the legislation in Great Britain and Northern Ireland only covers minimum working temperatures.  

However, the above guidelines then point to the HSE Website that describes ‘thermal comfort’.  This is defined as ‘a person’s state of mind in terms of whether they feel too hot or too cold’.  It used to say that an accepted zone of thermal comfort for most people in the UK lies between 13°C (56°F) and 30°C (86°F), with acceptable temperatures for more strenuous work activities concentrated towards the bottom end of the range, and more sedentary activities towards the higher end. 

Now, more emphasis seems to be on the employer’s responsibility for managing thermal comfort, as per the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and 2000 Northern Ireland equivalent. 

So, in light of the obligations under these Regulations, I thought I would point employers to some guidance, particularly relevant at this time – note that thermal comfort is the same UK-wide, so the links to the HSE Website in Great Britain apply equally in Northern Ireland:

On the last link, look at eth bottom for the handy ‘Thermal Comfort Checklist’ that can be downloaded in order to carry out thermal comfort risk assessments. 

Also note that the Management Regulations apply to some self-employed – so, employers should think of their responsibility as being to workers rather than just employees.

It is really important that employers are aware of thermal comfort and consult with employees or their representatives to establish ways of coping with high temperatures.  After all, failure to do so is against the Management Regulations. 

Ian Holloway - Payroll Consultant - i-Realise Ltd | LinkedInThis article is written by Ian Holloway, a highly respected payroll practitioner, writer, advisor and trainer at i-Realise. Ian has worked in the payroll profession for over 30 years.  He has developed exceptional 360-degree insight into payroll’s challenges and the impact of relevant legislation – having worked for both in-house payroll teams, software providers and as a payroll lecturer, writer and government advisor.

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