How hot is too hot? | Your Working Rights During a Heatwave

Portrait of Deana Bates
Author:
Deana Bates
Employment Law Solicitor
Date:
18/07/2022

Last week, the Met Office issued the UK’s first ever Level 4 red warning for extreme heat as some areas are set to experience temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius.

Forecasters have warned that the unprecedented heat could lead to "population-wide adverse health effects". If you’re working through the heatwave, you might be wondering what your rights are in relation to keeping yourself safe at work during the extreme heat.

If you work in an office, you might consider making a request to work from home in an effort to keep cool. Alternatively, if you want to continue going to work and you usually wear formal attire, you could ask your employer if more casual clothes can be worn for the duration of the heatwave.

Whilst your employer is under no obligation to grant these requests, they should consider whether a refusal to do so would result in any harm being caused to you and or your working environment being unsafe. If you believe your employer isn’t taking your health and safety at work seriously, our Employment Law team could help you. Get in touch for further advice.

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When is it too hot to Work?

In England and Wales, there is currently no maximum temperature in place where employees must be allowed to go home. This is largely because of the high temperatures found year-round in working environments such as glass works or foundries.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) have, however, set out the maximum temperatures they believe should be put in place by law to determine when employees should be allowed to go home in hot weather. These temperatures vary depending on the type of work being carried out.

Indoor Work

According to the TUC, the maximum temperature indoor workers should be expected to work in is 30 degrees Celsius. However, it is important to note that this only applies to roles that do not involve strenuous or manual work.

Whilst there is no maximum temperature in place by law, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 states that “during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.” However, the application of this will be relative to the type of workplace.

For example, the expected temperatures in a restaurant kitchen are likely to be higher than those experienced inside an office building.

Outdoor or Strenuous Work

For outdoor or strenuous work, the TUC recommends a lower maximum temperature of 27 degrees Celsius. They have warned that working in weather that is too hot could lead to employees in roles involving manual labour suffering dehydration, fainting, muscle cramps and sun damage.

Although there is currently no legally enforceable maximum temperature at which you can refuse to work, employers should still take steps to protect employees in any way possible during extreme heat.

How Should my Employer be Protecting me?

Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, employers have a duty to ensure health and safety at work by:

  • keeping the temperature in the workplace at a comfortable level – this is also known as thermal comfort;
  • providing fresh, clean air;
  • identifying who is the most at risk;
  • providing clean drinking water to prevent dehydration;

Your employer should carry out a risk assessment to evaluate the safety of your working environment that takes into account:

  • Work rate – when someone is working hard, the amount of body heat they generate will increase. This is particularly true for physical or strenuous jobs.
  • Working climate – employers should observe the humidity, air temperature, air movement and the effects on employees of working near any heat source.
  • Work clothing and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – these may be making it difficult for employees to regulate their body temperature. Employers should consider putting a more casual dress code in place or using specialist, breathable protective clothing in workplaces where PPE is needed.

Can my Employer Force me to Wear Formal Attire?

There is currently no legal requirement for employers to relax dress codes during hot weather. However, where it’s appropriate, companies may allow employees to dress more casually when temperatures reach a certain level.

If you work in a role where you’re required to wear PPE, your employer could allow work to take place at a slower rate and rotate staff members more frequently to allow for recovery before re-entering environments that require PPE to be worn.   

For more information on your employment rights generally and the services we offer, go to our Employment Law Solicitors page.

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