Hot Weather Working - Supporting Staff and Understanding Their Rights

Hot Weather Working - Supporting Staff and Understanding Their Rights

author

James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.

Date

19 June 2023

Updated

11 July 2024
4 min read
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Working conditions significantly impact employee health, safety, and productivity, and now the summer weather is finally here, you may be wondering just how hot is too hot when it comes to working conditions.

Whilst no specific laws in the UK stipulate maximum working temperatures, The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 require employers to provide a 'reasonable' temperature in the workplace.

Read on for guidance on how you can effectively manage your workforce during hot weather, including practical steps to create a comfortable working environment, how to address your employees' concerns professionally and special considerations for industries that may be particularly affected by high temperatures.

Understanding Your Legal Responsibilities & Employees' Rights 

Every employer has a responsibility to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment.

This duty extends to providing appropriate conditions when the weather is hot. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides guidelines rather than strict laws for hot temperatures, but do advise employers to:

  1. Carry out a risk assessment: If a significant number of employees are complaining about thermal discomfort, then it's time for a risk assessment, but this should be part of your regular H&S assessments already. 
  2. Make workplace adaptations: This could be installing air conditioning, and fans, or providing workers with suitable clothing and regular rest breaks to cool down.
  3. Ensure access to drinking water: Employees should have access to cold water to stay hydrated, especially during hot weather.
  4. Provide training and information: Employers should educate employees about the risks of heat stress and how to prevent it.

Employees have the right to complain to their employer or a union representative if they believe the temperature is not 'reasonable.'

If complaints can't be resolved at the workplace level, employees can escalate them to the HSE or local authority for potential enforcement action.

The Risks of Hot Weather Working

The Risks of Hot Weather Working

Aside from physical health, and exacerbating existing health conditions, working in uncomfortable temperatures can negatively affect concentration and productivity, leading to increased risks of workplace accidents.

The Risks of Hot Weather Working on Employees:

  • Heat Exhaustion: This condition can include symptoms like heavy sweating, rapid pulse, fatigue, and dizziness.
  • Heat Stroke: A more severe condition that can occur if heat exhaustion isn't treated. It can cause high body temperature, lack of sweat, and unconsciousness.
  • Dehydration: Hot weather can lead to rapid water loss, leading to dehydration if not properly managed.
  • Sunburn: For those working outside, there's a risk of sunburn which can cause pain and increase the risk of skin cancer in the long term.
  • Concentration Issues: High temperatures can cause discomfort and make it hard to concentrate, potentially leading to mistakes or accidents.
  • Worsening of Chronic Conditions: Certain chronic conditions like heart disease can be exacerbated by extreme heat.

Ways Employers Can Mitigate These Risks:

  • Provide Regular Breaks: Employers should ensure employees are able to take regular breaks to rest and cool down.
  • Ensure Access to Water: Make fresh, cool water readily available to all employees to encourage hydration.
  • Offer Flexible Working Arrangements: Whenever possible, consider flexible work hours or remote work to avoid the hottest parts of the day.
  • Educate Employees: Provide training and resources about the risks of heat stress and how to prevent it.
  • Heat Safety Policies: As an employer, it is critical to have a comprehensive heat safety policy. This should include guidelines on the provision of adequate water supplies, rest breaks, and access to cooler areas for breaks. 
  • Implement a Dress Code: If possible, relax dress code policies to allow for lighter, breathable clothing.
  • Provide Shade and Cooling: For outdoor work, provide shade structures. For indoor environments, use air conditioning or fans to cool the workspace.
  • Monitor Weather Conditions: Keep an eye on the forecast and plan work schedules around the hottest parts of the day.
  • Regular risk assessments should also be conducted to identify and address any heat-related risks.
  • Adapt Workload: When the weather is particularly hot, consider reducing the workload or increasing the frequency of breaks.
  • First Aid Training: Ensure that some staff members are trained to recognise and respond to symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

Implementing heat safety measures and supporting your employees during hot weather is a blend of proactive planning, regular risk assessment, ongoing education, and open communication.

These strategies will enable your team to work efficiently and safely, regardless of the heat.

Read more: Is your business ready for a heatwave? 

Addressing Employee Concerns and Complaints Effectively

Open communication channels play a significant role in making employees feel heard and that their concerns are taken seriously when it comes to heat-related issues. 

  • Encourage your employees to express their concerns regarding heat stress or any discomfort they experience during hot weather. This openness should be fostered without the fear of retaliation, creating a trusting and supportive atmosphere where staff wellbeing is prioritised.
  • Ensuring a prompt and professional response to complaints is equally important. Each concern, whether minor or significant, should be addressed in a timely manner. This demonstrates your company's commitment to health and safety, showing your employees that their well-being is not just a legal obligation, but a core value of your organisation.
  • If you view each complaint as an opportunity for improvement, you can proactively modify and improve your heat safety policies, ensuring they continue to effectively protect your staff in an ever-changing environment.

In essence, addressing heat-related concerns is not just about resolving issues, but about fostering an open, respectful, and proactive work culture dedicated to the health and safety of all employees.

Special Industry Considerations and Employer Actions

Special Industry Considerations and Employer Actions

Industries such as construction, agriculture, and outdoor events often entail prolonged exposure to heat, requiring extra precautions to ensure employee health and safety.

As such, employers in these sectors need to adopt industry-specific strategies to manage hot weather conditions effectively.

  • Firstly, the provision of shade is essential in these outdoor workplaces. Erecting temporary shade structures, or utilising existing ones, can provide a much-needed respite from direct sunlight.
  • Consider rotating tasks so that employees can alternate between working in shaded and unshaded areas, reducing continuous exposure to heat.
  • Keeping your employees hydrated is another critical factor. Frequent reminders to drink water, and providing easily accessible water stations, can help prevent dehydration. Given the intensity of outdoor work, a proactive approach to hydration is often required, encouraging workers to drink water even before they feel thirsty.
  • Employers can also provide sunscreen and educate their staff about the importance of protecting their skin from harmful UV radiation, particularly when working outside. 
  • Protective clothing, such as hats and UV-protective workwear, can be provided as part of their uniform.
  • The use of cooling equipment, where possible, could be considered. This might include misting systems or cooling vests. 
  • Adjusting work schedules to avoid the peak heat times of the day, typically mid-afternoon could significantly reduce heat exposure.
  • Employers should stay updated with weather forecasts and plan accordingly, potentially rescheduling high-intensity tasks for cooler parts of the day or, in the case of extreme heat, considering whether it's safe to work at all.

Employers in these kinds of industries can play a pivotal role in safeguarding their employees against the risks of hot weather.

By implementing special considerations and staying adaptable, they can create a safer and more comfortable working environment for their teams.

Summary

Hot weather working requires careful planning and management to protect your staff's health, safety, and productivity.

With the right strategies in place, you can ensure your business operates smoothly regardless of the weather.

Our expert team combines expertise in Employment Law, Health & Safety, and HR Services to help you navigate your responsibilities.

From advising on legal compliance and risk assessments to developing heat safety policies, educating employees, and fostering a transparent communication environment, we deliver an end-to-end service that can help you to meet your employer's responsibilities relating to hot weather working. 

Call us on 01244 893776 for personalised guidance on developing effective strategies and policies that protect your employees while adhering to legal requirements.

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