Last year marked another record-beating year for hot weather in the UK and meteorologists predict temperatures above 35C could become the norm. Alex Minett, Head of Products and Markets at CHAS, a Veriforce company, looks at five key questions businesses might have about working during hot spells.
July 2022 saw the Met Office issue its first ever red alert for extreme heat. With four out of ten of the UK’s hottest days on record having fallen in the last two years alone, the figures serve as a stark reminder of the accelerating impact of climate change.
As the mercury rises, so do the risks and hot weather can make for some challenging working conditions. Last year’s heatwave prompted the HSE to issue advice for businesses to review their hot weather risk procedures and ready themselves for a warmer future.
But with extreme hot weather events still relatively unfamiliar territory in the UK, many employers will have questions around their responsibilities in hot weather.
1. What is the legal maximum working temperature?
In short, there is none. However, under The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, employers have a legal duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their employees. This includes protection from the risks of working in hot weather and providing a ‘reasonable’ working temperature in the workplace.
2. How can employers determine when the workplace is too hot?
The HSE is clear that ‘heat is classed as a hazard’. Employers should therefore carry out a risk assessmentto help them determine what temperature is suitable for their workplace and where actions need to be implemented should it be exceeded.
There is no one size fits all response to hot weather as each work environment might be affected in different ways. Risk assessments should be informed by contributory factors including the ambient temperature, humidity, ventilation/air flow, sun exposure, PPE requirements and physical work rate.
3. What are the risks of working in hot weather?
Employers and workers should familiarise themselves with the signs of heat stress which the HSE defines as what happens ‘when the body’s way of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail.’ Heat stress can encompass issues such as dehydration, heat exhaustion and in more life-threatening cases, heatstroke. Certain workers such as those who are pregnant, menopausal women and workers with heart conditions are more likely to be affected.
Sunburn is another common occurrence during the summer months and while this may initially cause temporary discomfort, repeated UV exposure can lead to skin cancer as well as affect long and short-term vision in the eyes.
It’s not just people adversely affected by heat. Hot weather can have a significant impact on the performance and safety of machinery, tools and PPE too, causing them to overheat, degrade or malfunction. Employers should take steps to ensure that all types of equipment are well-maintained and serviced regularly.
4. What actions can employers take to mitigate the risks of hot weather?
Following the outcomes of their hot weather risk assessments, businesses may want to consider the following actions:
· Cancel, postpone or substitute work: can physical work be cancelled, postponed or substituted with tools or machinery.
· Offer flexible working: considerallowing employees to work earlier or later when temperatures are not as intense.
· Adapt workspaces: move desks out of direct sunlight, close blinds or shutters, and relocate specific tasks into shaded areas.
· Provide access to cool rest areas and encourage hydration: provide access to shade or air-conditioned rest areas. By law, employers must provide fresh drinking water.
· Monitor at risk individuals: age, body type and medical conditions can make people more susceptible to the side effects of hot weather. An individual heat stress risk assessment is a useful tool to help evaluate the risk.
· Provide training: provide information and training to employees on the risks of working in hot conditions and how to stay safe.
5. How can hot weather affect PPE users?
Hot weather may simply cause discomfort to PPE wearers which can lead to lack of concentration but when it becomes difficult for workers to cool down in their PPE, employers should be aware that heat stress may occur.
PPE can be used to protect workers in hot weather too. Equipment might include legionnaires hats or neck shades, protective UV eyewear as well as cooling vests, pads, towels and bandanas which are designed to actively cool the body down in the heat.
It’s important to ensure that any changes to PPE are compatible with existing equipment.
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