During the Summer months in particular it is useful to revisit the guidelines and legislation in relation to the question ‘is it too hot to work?’ This relates to the temperature above which it is not acceptable for employers to expect employees to work (and employees should not be expected to work in).
As usual, I head straight for the legislation which, as you would expect, differs depending on whether you are in Great Britain or Northern Ireland:
- The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 in Great Britain, and
- The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993
However, in both pieces of legislation, it is Regulation 7 that says:
‘During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.’
So, what does reasonable actually mean? The next step is to look at the guidance on this legislation, found in the relevant Approved Codes of Practice on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Health and Safety Executive (Northern Ireland) (HSENI) Websites. Whilst the Websites may be different, the guidance is the same:
‘The temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius. If work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius’
In short, the legislation in Great Britain and Northern Ireland only covers minimum working temperatures.
However, the above guidance then points to the HSE Website that describes ‘thermal comfort’. This is defined as ‘a person’s state of mind in terms of whether they feel too hot or too cold’. It used to say that an accepted zone of thermal comfort for most people in the UK lies 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 more sedentary activities towards the higher end.
Now, more emphasis seems to be on the employer’s responsibility for managing thermal comfort, as per the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and 2000 Northern Ireland equivalent.
It is really important that employers are aware of thermal comfort and consult with employees or their representatives to establish ways of coping with high temperatures. After all, failure to do so is against the Management Regulations. Also note that the Management Regulations apply to some self-employed – so, employers should think of their responsibility as being to workers rather than just employees.