It is not uncommon at the height of summer for offices and other workplaces to record temperatures of 37ºc (95ºf) or more. This not only makes work tiring for employees - it is also a potential cause of accidents.
We all know what happens when the temperature begins to rise at work. People perspire without moving; stress levels rise; concentration levels fall; mistakes creep in; work rates go down and accident levels begin to rise. If you are doing manual or strenuous work there is the additional danger of dehydration and heat stress as the body loses liquid and the core temperature of the body begins to rise.
All employees are protected by law from having to work in excessively hot temperatures. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 states that the temperature within workplaces 'must be reasonable'. Unfortunately the Regulations do not define an upper limit for what is reasonable.
The GMB believes that a sensible limit would be near to that which the World Health Organisation has recommended, this is 75ºf.
The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers recommends that an acceptable temperature limit for most kinds of work is between 16ºc and 23ºc (60.8ºf to 72ºf).
What YOUR employer should be doing
Your employer must comply with the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. This means your workplace should have a reasonable temperature at all times. Listed below are some of the measures that your employer should be taking.
The law requires each enclosed workplace to be ventilated so that a continual flow of fresh or purified air is provided. Opening windows can do this - but if this does not produce continual fresh air then mechanical ventilation must be provided.
Provide air cooling plant/air conditioning
Where temperatures reach uncomfortably high levels the employer must take reasonable measures to reduce the heat. In most cases the provision of air conditioning does not entail major expense to the employer. Most offices would only require the hire or purchase of stand-alone plug in cooling units.
By providing blinds and shades your employer can help to reduce temperature levels, cheaply and effectively.
Relax dress codes
Having to wear a heavy uniform or official company garments can increase the stress and discomfort caused by excessive temperatures. Employers should relax dress codes and allow staff to wear loose fitting, comfortable clothes.
Provide cold drinks and allow breaks
When temperatures reach high levels employers should provide drinks free of charge - particularly cold water and soft drinks. Employees should also be allowed to take more frequent breaks from work areas and sit in a cooler area.
What you should do
Monitor the temperature, by law your employer must supply thermometers in every part of the workplace and take complaints to the employer or a union representative.
Report any ill health effects in the accident book.
Where managers refuse to try to reduce temperature levels - inform the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). You will find their details in the local phone book or online.