What does the law say on employees' rights during a heatwave?

Rules around temperatures in the indoor workplace are covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

The regulations place a legal obligation on employers to provide a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace. However, while there is a minimum working temperature, there is no statutory upper limit.

The Approved Code of Practice suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16C. If the work involves “rigorous physical effort”, the temperature should be at least 13C.

These temperatures are not absolute legal requirements and the employer has a duty to determine what “reasonable comfort will be” in the particular circumstances.

However, many will be surprised to learn that there is no legal maximum working temperature.

That said employers must take into account six basic factors when deciding whether to keep people in the workplace; air temperature, radiant temperatures, air velocity, humidity, the clothing employees are expected to wear and their expected work rate.

The temperature at work should be “reasonable” given the type of workplace.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to make a “suitable assessment” of the risks to the health and safety of their employees and take action “where necessary and where reasonably practicable”. If this does not happen then a complaint can be made to an industry regulator.

The TUC has called for a maximum workplace temperature of 30C for non-manual and 27C for manual workers, meaning that workers would be sent home if the workplace temperature exceeded it.

It also wants to see an obligation on employers to start taking measures to cool a workplace when it reaches 24C.

According to a HSE spokesman: “The temperature of the workplace is one of the potential hazards that employers should address to meet their legal obligations. Employers should consult with employees or their representatives to establish sensible means to cope with high temperatures.”

So, while many employers will let staff dress more casually during hot spells, the TUC want to see this written into law.


Authors: Howard Tilney

Published: 12 Jul 2017


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