What employers need to know about hot weather and the workplace
Both Ireland and the UK experienced the hottest day of the year last month but work didn’t stop simply because the sun put its hat on.
And while the weather on these islands can be a little fickle, forecasts for a few weeks of idyllic summer sunshine, mean it’s a good time to be reminded of what employment law stipulates around working in hot weather.
Across the three jurisdictions in which HR Team provides outsourced human resources and employment law advice - the UK, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland - there is no law determining when it’s too cold or too hot to work.
However, in the UK, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (SI 1992/3004) state that, during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings should be reasonable.
The Health and Safety Executive previously defined an acceptable zone of thermal comfort for most people in the UK as lying "roughly between 13°C (56°F) and 30°C (86°F), with acceptable temperatures for more strenuous work activities concentrated towards the bottom end of the range, and for more sedentary activities towards the higher end".
An expectation lies with employers, however, to determine what is reasonable. This will primarily depend on the nature of the workplace and the activities undertaken.
In Northern Ireland, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993 detail the requirements for the temperature as per the UK law noted above.
Similarly in the Republic of Ireland, the legislation does not stipulate a maximum workplace temperature.
But under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, employers have a general duty to ensure the safety, health and welfare of all employees.
Employers therefore, be they in NI, ROI or the UK, need to be aware of how the temperature of the workplace may impact on the safety, health and welfare of staff.
Implementing a number of simple measures can help employers and they should bear in mind the importance of adequate ventilation and shade in all workplaces.
Curtains and blinds can be closed to avoid radiant heat, while in most indoor work environments, open windows and doors will work to provide ventilation.
Many workplaces have air conditioning - if this is installed it’s vital it is serviced regularly.
Fans can further reduce the heat and increase air circulation while rearranging desks if they are in direct sunlight can also help.
Any especially ‘hot’ work processes might need re-scheduled for early morning.
Outdoor workers should be encouraged to take adequate sun protection measures, including the wearing of protective clothing and the regular application of sun cream
Furthermore, all staff should be encouraged to drink more water during extra hot days and the provision of cold drinks will go a long way to keeping staff comfortable.
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