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Hasn’t the weather in June been lovely so far? (Ok, we know there have been some stormy days – but generally, it’s been pretty good – especially for a British summer!) Temperatures have exceeded 30 degrees on a number of occasions and we’re only just getting started with summer. All predictions are that this heat is here to stay on a regular basis,  with the Met Office records showing that all of the UK’s ten warmest years have occurred in the last two decades.

What does this mean (apart from your lovely tan!)? Well, it means that heat is going to become more of an issue for you as an employer for summers to come. Now would be a really good time to get your head around what the law says and what your obligations are.

What does the law say?

A lot of the time you tend to hear people saying “if it reaches 30-something, it’s not safe to work and I should get the day off”. Well, the law doesn’t quite work like that.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers are required to ensure the health, safety and welfare of those present in the workplace. Nowhere in that legislation or any of the regulations that sit alongside it is there a minimum or maximum temperature for indoor workplaces – that is the first myth we will bust!

The closest we get is in regulation 7 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 which states that the temperature in all indoor workplaces should be “reasonable”….the employment lawyer’s favourite word again!

“What does reasonable mean?” I hear you ask. Well, it will all depend on the nature of the work that is being undertaken and those who are present in the workplace. There is no one size fits all answer here and as an employer you’re going to have to apply your mind to determine what a reasonable temperature in the workplace is for your workplace.

There is some guidance out there for you (not just this handy guidance from us at Precept). The Health & Safety Executive has an Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) which was last updated in 2013. Helpfully, this does set out guidance for minimum workplace temperatures. So, for example, offices should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius. If work requires physical effort, however, the suggested minimum temperature should be 13 degrees.

Unhelpfully, there is no maximum temperature recommended in the guidance!

What should we be doing then?

Assess, assess and assess. That is the best tip that we can give you. You do, as an employer, have a general legal obligation to undertake suitable assessments of health and safety risks to your employees. Clearly, temperature should factor into those assessments.

Once you’ve assessed the risks involved with high (or even low) temperatures, you should look at putting in place reasonable mitigation techniques to minimise those risks. That might include:

  1. Providing air-conditioning or, where that’s not possible, electric fans or cooling systems;
  2. Allowing different temperature controls in different parts of the workplace;
  3. Staggering shift patterns so that employees can avoid travelling during the warmer (or colder) parts of the day;
  4. Consider allowing working from home to avoid travel;
  5. Relax dress codes.

Whenever looking at this there are other considerations of course – consider any differing requirements from certain staff members.  We are thinking potential adjustments required for those with a disability perhaps.  It would be too easy if the answer was black and white right?

If in doubt, give Precept a shout! We’re here to help you whatever the weather.