June 25, 2024

Beat the Heat: Employer Guidelines for Protecting Workers During Heatwaves

This post was written by: Riya Sekhon

As heatwaves become more frequent, it’s crucial for employers to understand their legal obligations and take proactive steps to protect their workers from the risks associated with extreme heat. Here’s a comprehensive guide on what’s expected from employers, the potential health impacts of working in the heat, and practical measures to reduce these risks.

Employer Responsibilities:

Employers must do whatever they can to protect the wellbeing of their workers, ensuring a safe work environment that is free from heat-related risks. Regular risk assessments are essential to identify and mitigate heat-related hazards, with special attention given to employees with existing health conditions that might make them more vulnerable to heat stress.

Potential Consequences of Working in the Heat:

Exposure to high temperatures can lead to serious health issues, including heat stress. Symptoms of heat stress include:

  • Lack of concentration;
  • Muscle cramps;
  • Heat rash;
  • Severe thirst;
  • Fainting;
  • Heat exhaustion;
  • Heat stroke.

To protect workers from heat stress, employers should take the following steps:

  • Control Heat Sources – Utilise fans, air conditioning, and physical barriers to minimise heat exposure.
  • Modify Rate Work – Provide tools and equipment to reduce physical exertion where possible.
  • Regulate Exposure – Schedule work during cooler parts of the day and provide regular rest breaks in cooler areas.
  • Prevent Dehydration – Ensure cool water is readily available and encourage frequent hydration.
  • Identify Vulnerable Employees – Recognise and accommodate employees at higher risk due to health conditions, medications, or other factors.

Health and Safety in the Workplace:

There is no specific maximum working temperature law, as conditions vary by workplace. However, employers must adhere to Health and Safety Regulations by maintaining comfortable temperatures and providing fresh air. Legal requirements include:

  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations mandate a reasonable indoor temperature based on activity and conditions.
  • The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations require appropriate temperatures for indoor construction sites and protection from adverse weather for outdoor sites.

Employees should monitor and address complaints or illnesses related to workplace temperatures. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, employers must assess and control risks, including temperature. Consulting with workers on their representatives is crucial to find effective ways to manage temperature extremes. The Approved Code of Practice suggests at least 16°C (or 13°C for strenuous work).

Practical Steps for Managing Workplace Temperatures:

  • Maintain reasonable temperatures
  • Use local cooling solutions (e.g., fans, AC)
  • Provide rest facilities and more frequent breaks
  • Ensure adequate ventilation
  • Position workstations away from heat sources
  • Provide cold water
  • Allow flexible work hours
  • Remove Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when not needed

Worker’s can help manage their comfort by adjusting clothing layers, using fans or window blinds, staying hydrated, and taking regular breaks. They should report any temperature-related issues to a manager, union, or representative.

By understanding these guidelines and proactively managing workplace temperatures, employers can ensure a safer and more comfortable environment for their workers, even during extreme weather conditions. Prioritising worker safety not only complies with legal requirements but also promotes a healthier, more productive workforce.