Laws protecting employees from the effects of abnormally high temperatures remain weak, despite health and safety legislation indicating minimum temperatures below which workers should not have to work.
So with temperatures expected to reach record highs this week, the British workforce looks set to swelter. Richard Linskell, employment partner at Dawsons Solicitors said: 'Employers have a general duty to provide a safe working environment and to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees as well as a specific statutory duty to ensure a 'reasonable temperature' in the workplace. Although many UK employers will provide their workforce with comfortable working conditions, there is currently no specific guidance on maximum temperatures. If, for example, the air conditioning were to fail on a particularly stifling day, then employees might simply have to grin and bear it. By contrast, if there were a severe cold snap, then employees might be entitled to go home on full pay if the premises could not be adequately heated. 'Employers should carry out a risk assessment and consider whether any steps should be taken to protect their employees, including possibly sending them home if adequate measures cannot be taken. . With temperatures rising year by year, this is an area that employers will increasingly need to deal with and one that the government might also wish to address.'The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 require that during working hours 'the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable'. They also stipulate that a sufficient number of thermometers must be available to enable employees to check the workplace temperature within the building. There is no maximum temperature stipulated, but the minimum temperature set out in the Approved Code of Practice is 16 degrees celsius - or 13 degrees celsius if severe physical effort is involved. Linskell continues, 'It is not just a question of high temperatures making people irritable and less efficient. Companies must ensure that their employees are not put at risk of collapsing with heat exhaustion or dehydration. Additional methods of cooling and ventilation should be provided if temperatures are not reasonable and plenty of drinking water should be provided. For outdoor workers, such as those on construction sites where they may be wearing heavy safety clothing and where they may be at risk of falling from height, employers should ensure that regular breaks are taken and that their employees are drinking the water that is made available.' Related links:Today's top stories