We are now several weeks into our stereo-typically un-British summer and although relaxing in this tropical weather may be ideal, the reality of working in such high temperatures can be very unpleasant.
It is important that employers consider the duty of care they have to their employees when requiring them to work in these conditions. We have therefore devised a number of suggestions to help employers comply with their duty of care and to get the best out of their staff in this weather.
- An employer has a duty to provide a suitable working environment for their employees/workers. In the case of Waltons & Morse v Dorrington  IRLR 488 it was established that they must “provide and monitor… so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment which is reasonably suitable for the performance by [the employees] of their contractual duties.”
- The law does not set specific temperature that determines when it is too hot or too cold to work. Guidance does suggest that, for individuals doing physical work, working in a temperature below 16ºC would be unreasonable, and in the case of Graham Oxley Tool Steels Ltd v Firth  IRLR 135 it was also established that an employer had breached their duty of care when requiring a workshop employee to work in a temperature of 9ºC in winter. Unhelpfully, no guidance has been provided on the maximum temperature that may be considered reasonable.
- The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 states that an employer must ensure that the temperature in the workplace is “reasonable”. A common sense approach will need to be implemented by employers when determining what amounts to a reasonable/unreasonable temperature. It is important to communicate with your employees/workers if the temperature in the workplace becomes uncomfortable. Individual “thermal comfort” is important, but we all react differently to temperature and so the best thing an employer can do is to provide a reasonable temperature that works for most employees.
- Special consideration should be given to vulnerable employees or workers that are likely to suffer more in the hot weather, for example members of staff with a health condition or pregnant members of staff. Employers will be expected to carry out risk assessments and make adequate adjustments for vulnerable members of staff.
- It is likely that offices will have air conditioning and heating facilities that will be able to regulate the temperature inside the office to a reasonable level. Closing blinds and issuing fans may also assist in maintaining a reasonable temperature for office based workers to work comfortably and effectively.
- It is good practice to provide employees with cool water facilities and to consider relaxing strict dress codes that may, for example, require employees to wear suit jackets. Employees should be advised though that this does not extend to personal protective equipment (PPE) which has to be worn at all times. Letting employees who have to wear PPE take additional breaks when they can strip off may be required as an alternative action.
- For individuals who are based outside in this temperature, employers will need to risk assess the working conditions. Employers should also encourage staff to wear appropriate attire, take regular breaks, drink water regularly, utilise the shade where possible and apply appropriate amounts of sun cream to prevent sun burn and heat stroke.
The above suggestions are to be used at the employers discretion, but there will be health and safety requirements, depending on the work being undertaken, that employers will also need to adopt to ensure the working environment is safe for their staff. The law clearly encourages a common sense approach to be adopted by employers, after all, a workforce will be unable to work efficiently in an unsafe environment.