With temperatures rising up to a scorching 28 degrees this week in some parts of the UK, and the effects of hayfever getting increasingly worse - what effect does this have on the workplace, and how can you protect the safety and productivity of your staff?
All employers have a responsibility to follow health and safety rules, and ensuring they have facilities to keep their workers cool on hotter days, falls under those UK health and safety laws. According to Mike Hibbs, employment partner at Shakespeare Martineau law firm, businesses must stick to the rules, even for those working from home.
So, aside from sticking to legislation, what more can you do to ensure that your employees' health and wellbeing are at the forefront this summer?
Implementing safe working temperatures
In offices or similar environments, the temperature in workplaces must be reasonable.
There is no law for maximum working temperature, or when it's too hot to work, however, employers must stick to health and safety at work laws, including:
- Keeping the temperature at a comfortable level, sometimes known as thermal comfort
- Providing clean and fresh air
This can be done by keeping windows and doors open where safe and reasonable, turning on air conditioning, and ensuring there is cool running, drinkable water available.
All of these actions can be measured in the workplace, however, with many employees still working at home these options may not all be available. with their only means of keeping cool to open windows. This could lead to the potential disturbance from street noise and neighbours when trying to make telephone or video calls and therefore can make this option impractical.
Businesses should think about what else they can do to be of practical assistance, for example, by providing workers with electric fans if appropriate - and making sure they check in on how employees are getting on.
Take a break
We all know how busy the workplace can get, and often times scheduled breaks go a miss, or you end up eating lunch at your desk whilst you work.
During times of high-temperature weather, it is vital that employers are ensuring everyone takes a break. As an employer, you have a duty of care for your employees, so you should follow a sensible plan; this should involve line managers checking in with staff at least once a day and reminding employees to stay hydrated and take proper breaks.
Also, encourage employees to be vocal if they feel they need to take an additional break - when reasonable.
In hot weather, it could be important for businesses to consider relaxing the rules around restrictive clothing, such as ties, blazers, tights etc. Employees are unlikely to produce their best work when all they can think about is how warm and uncomfortable they are.
If you are a workplace that has a smart dress code it may be worth introducing a dress-down policy for days when temperatures are considerably above average, and for meeting commitments encourage a more casual dress code for all.
Implementing an early start and finish workday, like those common in hot countries, can allow workers to rest during the worst of the heat and work when it is cooler. Your employees’ health and safety should always be a priority and failing to consider what adjustments could be made to support employees when the temperature rises are not advisable.
If staff become ill from the heat, especially those with health conditions that mean they are more susceptible, employers could find themselves involved in a personal injury dispute. Ultimately, employee safety should always be an employer’s top priority and they cannot force staff to work if temperature and noise levels prohibit them from doing so safely.
Certain disabilities, such as COPD and arthritis, also make working in high temperatures particularly difficult, so employers need to consider reasonable adjustments that may need to be made to help them do their jobs safely.
Without well-looked-after employees, businesses would not be able to survive, so ensuring their health and wellbeing are at the top of your priority list is a must, this summer, and beyond.