Google queries asking whether it is legally too hot to work have increased by over 3000 percent in the UK.
However, there is no legal minimum or maximum working temperature in the UK.
This does not mean that it is never too hot to work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that working temperatures should provide reasonable comfort to workers and prevent risks. “The risk to the health of workers increases as conditions move further away from those generally accepted as comfortable. Risk of heat stress arises, for example, from working in high air temperatures.”
The recommended temperatures for comfort they describe are as follows:
“For workplaces where the activity is mainly sedentary, for example offices, the temperature should normally be at least 16 °C. If work involves physical effort it should be at least 13 °C (unless other laws require lower temperatures).”
It is up to each business to carry out a risk assessment to help determine what temperature is suitable for their work environment and to identify the necessary controls to achieve this, taking into consideration the recommended temperatures and HSE guidance.
What are employer responsibilities in the hot weather?
All employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of employees.
Although there are no specific legal requirements on what measures to implement, such as to always provide air conditioning in offices, the employer’s risk assessment will need to determine what health and safety hazards are present, such as heat in summer months, and how to control the risks they pose – in this case, heat stress.
They will then need to determine which actions are necessary following the assessment, in which case air conditioning may be identified as necessary if a comfortable temperature can’t otherwise be reached.
Employers should also take extra care to protect any vulnerable people in the office. Hot weather can make people feel tired and less energetic than usual, especially for young and elderly people, pregnant women, and people who may be on medication.
Vulnerable people may appreciate extra rest breaks or a desk fan to improve air circulation.
What can employers do to make work more comfortable in the heat?
Employers have a responsibility to make sure their staff’s working conditions are safe and as comfortable as possible, and luckily there are measures that can be taken to help improve conditions without sending everyone home.
Actions that employers may take following a risk assessment include:
- Installing and maintaining air conditioning units where possible. This may not always be reasonably practicable however, so other measures, like those listed below, may need to be considered.
- Relaxing the dress code. If office wear usually means wearing a suit, relax this rule in hot weather. Allow more informal wear such as no ties or no suit jackets to cope with the heat.
- Providing refreshments. By law, employees should have access to fresh drinking water, but providing ice and squash will refresh people even further.
- Providing desk fans, or temporary cooling units to improve air circulation and keep people cool at their desks.
- Moving people’s working areas to cooler locations, such as moving desks that are in direct sunlight away from that area.
- Installing curtains and blinds on sun-facing windows, to prevent the office from getting hotter.
- Accommodating flexible hours so people can work earlier or later when temperatures are not as intense.
Necessary arrangements should be made
“Working in the middle of a heatwave can be incredibly uncomfortable, especially in buildings or environments where adequate air conditioning isn’t available. For those working from home on a temporary or permanent basis, the lines may appear to be blurred between who is responsible for what. But it’s important to note that employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of all their employees, regardless of where they work,” says Health and Safety Learning Designer at High Speed Training, Liz Burton-Hughes.
“This means they should make the necessary arrangements to help employees who work from home maintain a comfortable temperature. Measures they may take include many of those described above, such as providing fans to help cool the employee’s working area and allowing flexible working, as well as providing guidance on how to stay cool. For example, ensuring staff know to keep curtains closed in sun-facing rooms, and encouraging them to take plenty of breaks to drink water and regain their concentration,” adds Ms Burton-Hughes.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.