Too Hot to Work in the Office?
Unlike in 2018, when the sun came out the beginning of May and stayed out for three glorious months, the summer of 2019 has been a bit of a slow starter. It took until well into June to get any weather that might have created a situation of it being too hot to work in the office.
At this point it’s worth noting though that the Met Office’s meteorological definition of summer isn’t the traditional one. If we’re going to be proper about it, summer begins (in the northern hemisphere) on the summer solstice. Depending on the shift of the calendar the northern hemisphere’s summer solstice takes place between the 20th and 22nd June. So as grotty as early June was, summer began pretty much bang on time.
Anyway – to the point. There’s a heatwave going on, and your offices don’t have air conditioning and what you want to know is:
- Can your staff leave work if it’s too hot?
- Is there a maximum workplace temperature?
The gospel according to the Gov.UK website states that: ‘During working hours the temperature in all indoor workplaces must be reasonable.’ But there’s no law decreeing maximum or minimum working temperatures. The best there is, is guidance on the minimum temperature when employees are engaged in physical labour.
All the above said, the TUC have stated a belief that employers should set a maximum temperature of 30c, with a top note of 27c for those doing strenuous work.
Despite the absence of a legal high temperature, it goes without saying that, as an employer, you must abide by health and safety at work a law and do all you can to provide your staff with:
- A temperature maintained at a comfortable and reasonable level.**
- Clean, fresh air
**Reasonable being defined by the HSE as: dependent on the type of work being done (manual, office, etc) and the type of workplace (kitchen, air-conditioned office, etc).
In addition to the Workplace Regulations, the 1999 Management of Health and Safey at Work Regulations call on you the employer, to make appropriate assessments of their employee’s health and safety risks. Then take necessary and practicable actions.
And of course, the workplace temperature is a potential hazard.
Six Steps to a Safe Hot Weather Workplace
The Health and Safety Executive spells out six factorsthat you the employer must consider in assessing if your workplace is safe. They are:
- Air temperature
- Radiant temperature
- Air velocity
- What clothing your staff wear
- The average age at which they work.
To help you, they have a thermal comfort checklist. They recommend that you get your employees to fill it out so you can determine if they’re experiencing thermal discomfort.
The right air conditioning
A word about air conditioning. Should you work in offices with air conditioning, and should you be in a position to influence its settings. And should you have female staff members, you might want to take note of this article in The Metro from a couple of years back.
Everyday sexism is alive and well in the temperature at which most air conditioning is set. A study carried out by two Dutch scientists at Maastricht University, found that the thermostats in most offices are based on the resting metabolic rate of a 40-year-old-man. This as per standard air con guidelines that date back to the 1960s. All of which fails to consider that women tend to be smaller and to naturally have more body fat – it’s to do with biology. Ergo they have slower metabolic rates. So, while your male employees are nice and comfortable thank you, your female staff members could well be turning blue.
So, if you are in a position to influence it – do it.
If you’re at all unsure of your obligations in keeping your staff as comfortable as possible in hot weather, or you’d like help with any of it then speak to Go-Legal and we’ll advise. No sweat!!