Keeping your cool over heat in the workplace

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shutterstock_95641537Summer is here – but unfortunately many of us are still at work. So what’s the law on working in the heat?

Can we really all go home if the thermometer rises above 30 degrees Celsius?

This issue is covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 which place a legal obligation on employers to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace.

However, there is no legal maximum or minimum. The approved code of practice suggests that the minimum workplace temperature should normally be at least 16 degrees C or around 13 if the work involves rigorous physical effort.

As an employer it may be necessary to carry out a thermal comfort risk assessment to determine whether the temperature is reasonable or not.

This would include assessing the air temperature, air velocity, humidity, radiant temperature, metabolic heat and clothing insulation – all of which contribute to an employee’s thermal comfort.

Another important fact to consider is the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Where PPE is required it can cause heat stress due to its weight and the fact it prevents sweat evaporation.

In these situations employers should:

  • Permit work to occur at a slower rate
  • Rotate employees on a more frequent basis
  • Allow longer break periods
  • Schedule work for cooler times of the day
  • Revaluate the PPE used as newer styles may be lighter and provide improved levels of protection and comfort

So unfortunately, no, there is no legal requirement to send employees home should the temperature reach a certain point.

As an employee, however, you have a right to ask your employer to perform a risk assessment to establish if any control measures could be added to create a more pleasant working experience.

Remember, when working in the heat it is important to drink plenty of water and take shaded breaks where possible.