With the temperatures set to reach record highs in the next week, many employers are unprepared for the heatwave which will have an impact on workforces across the country.
Most employers are aware that there are no maximum temperatures set that require workers to be sent home, however what many do not realise is that as part of their risk assessment (the process that protects employees from hazards), they are required to ensure the welfare of their staff in the heat.
Whilst this may not mean sending the workforce home, there are significant control measures employers need to consider and put in place before the temperatures rise.
To help employers, Michael Brown, Health & Safety Content Manager at Citation explains the key points which should be considered as part of most workplace risk assessments:
Slap on the suncream
With the heat reaching record highs and the sun scorching, employers may choose to provide sun cream and encourage employees to keep the sun damage at bay. The UV rays can also make their way through your clothes, so if you know your team is going to be working in the scorching sun, remind your employees to apply sun cream under their clothing too.
By taking these steps to keep the team sun-safe it will reduce any sunburn and help keep them happy and injury free.
Sit in the shade
Encouraging, or in some cases, enforcing your employees to regularly take breaks to sit in the shade and cool down is key to keeping your staff cool. By letting them cool themselves down you’re helping to fight their internal temperatures and keep them colder, reducing the risk of heatstroke.
This is essential for outdoor workers, but also bosses of hybrid workers should think about it too. In the heat, many will retreat outside to work in the sun, but they should be reminded to take regular breaks in the shade.
Make sure the air conditioning works
Ensure that your air conditioning is maintained by a competent provider and serviced at regular intervals. Bacteria can build up in the system causing musty odours which mean people are less likely to want to switch it on! A well maintained system, set to a temperature that most people can work in will keep your workforce productive when the sun shines!
Embrace the breeze
If your office doesn’t have aircon, then embrace the natural breeze, especially during a heatwave, Open your windows as wide as you can and let the natural wind cool the office down. As I highlighted before though, ensure that you assess the risk to your occupants, particularly if you are above ground floor level. You could also attach fly nets to stop any pesky bugs making their way in.
Staying hydrated during a heatwave one of the best ways to keep yourself cool. Employers are required by law to provide drinking water as part of their welfare facilities.
Ensure that staff are aware of where they can get fresh water to drink, and remember to provide plenty of cups if you rely on water-coolers! Encourage your team to ample amounts of water when they feel thirsty and to take water bottles with them when they work on site.
Make every day a dress down day during a heatwave
Encourage your team to wear cooler clothing that utilises cooling systems or breathable materials. If you provide clothing for your staff, ensure that the clothing meets these requirements. It is also important to consider the hazards that PPE may pose. For example, if an employee is working with asbestos, they will be required to wear protective clothing, but this type of clothing may in fact increase their risk of heat stress, thus reducing the amount of time they can spend doing the activity.
Carry out a risk assessment
If you have identified the risk of heat stress occurring in your business’ work environment, you need to carry out a risk assessment to identify what control measures you’ll put in place. You should look at the factors that cause heatstroke and heat stress, recognise who’s in harm’s way, implement control measures and document any findings.
Knowledge is power
Make sure all new and existing employees are trained up on how to keep cool when working in the heat, especially those who are new to industries that work in the heat.
Inform and remind them of the risks specific to their role, what symptoms to look out for, how they can reduce the risks and what they should do in the event of an emergency.
Try to be flexible
If you work in an office, try to offer your staff some level of flexible working throughout the heatwave. If they have to get on packed trains or buses at rush hour, they are more susceptible to overheat. You can try to shift working times so that your team can avoid rush hour traffic, or allow them to work from home if that’s what they would prefer. Some people are also less productive in the sunny hours, so you could allow them to not work during those hours, and instead work late or early to make up for any time loss.
Hybrid & Home Workers
Remember, hybrid and home workers still count! Encourage those working from home to keep in touch and take regular breaks too.