Helping employees keep their cool in a heatwave

Guides & Advice
Published: 17th June 2022
Area: Employment

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This recent heatwave has raised questions surrounding dress code and hot weather policies, particularly for those employees who are working remotely.

With many businesses adopting a more agile working culture, many employees are still choosing to work from home. However, this does not mean that employers can suddenly forget their health and safety responsibilities. Plus, if people are uncomfortable it’s difficult to maintain a productive workplace.

So should re-assessments be made? Here we explore what businesses can do to ensure their employees stay cool, wherever they’re working.

  1. Safe working temperatures

Employers usually rely on air conditioning and ventilation to regulate temperatures within the workplace.  However, employees working remotely may not have this option, 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.

For those employees that have returned to the workplace, although there is a minimum working temperature of 16 degrees centigrade, currently there is no maximum temperature. This is because in some work environments, such as a bakery or foundry, the temperature will reach higher temperatures far quicker than in an office. Therefore, it’s difficult to set an appropriate limit for all.

  1. Legal obligations

Employers have no legal obligation to ensure suitable working temperatures. However, they do have a duty of care over their employees, so must provide a safe environment where staff are not at risk of falling ill from the heat.

With regards to the usual workplace, installing air conditioning or making sure there is always access to cold water, could form part of this.

To protect workforce wellbeing when remote working is in place, employers 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.

  1. Dress code

For those employees that have returned to the workplace, in hot weather, businesses should consider relaxing the rules around restrictive clothing, such as ties. Employees are unlikely to produce their best work when all they can think about is how warm they are.

It may even 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.

Employers with a dress code in place for video calls when working remotely should also consider relaxing it.

  1. Flexible working

On days of extreme temperatures, implementing an early start and late finish workday, like those common in hot countries, would 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.

Failing to consider what adjustments could be made to support employees when the temperature rises is not advisable. If staff become ill from the heat, especially those with health conditions which 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.

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.

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