TUC urges employers to keep workers safe as high temperatures continue

By agency reporter
August 10, 2020

With the temperature set to remain above 30degC in many parts of the UK, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) is calling on employers to make sure staff are protected from the sun and heat. Working in hot weather can also lead to dehydration, tiredness, muscle cramps, rashes, fainting, and – in the most extreme cases – loss of consciousness.

The TUC says employers 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. Employers could also let staff work from home where possible.
  • Keeping workplace 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 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.
  • Sensible hours and shaded areas for outdoor workers: Outside tasks should be scheduled for early morning and late afternoon, rather than between 11am-3pm when temperatures are highest. And employers should provide canopies and shades wherever possible.

There is 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 16degC, or 13degC 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 30degC – or 27degC for those doing strenuous jobs – with employers obliged to adopt cooling measures when the workplace temperature hits 24degC.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all love the summer sun. But working in sweltering conditions can be unbearable and dangerous. Employers must make sure outdoor workers are protected with regular breaks, lots of fluids, plenty of sunscreen and the right protective clothing. Indoor workplaces should be kept cool, with relaxed dress codes and flexible working to make use of the coolest hours of the day.”

The TUC is also asking employers to consider additional needs that may arise in hot weather from coronavirus health and safety requirements. Frances O'Grady  added: “Safe use of PPE in hot weather is especially important. Staff will need extra breaks to cool down if their equipment reduces ventilation and makes the hot weather harder to handle.

“Many offices have air conditioning, but few people have it in their homes. Lots of staff still need to work from home, so they may struggle to work during the hottest parts of the day. Employers should allow flexible hours to work when it's cooler.”

* Trades Union Congress https://www.tuc.org.uk/

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