Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!

As the heatwave currently shimmering across the UK shows no sign of abating, workers who have to battle temperatures that would be illegal for transporting cattle are arriving at work hot and bothered. However, what legal safeguards do they have if the heat is on there too?

The London Evening Standard reported yesterday (24 July) that temperatures on the Central Line at Oxford Circus hit 34.8C, with humidity at 45 per cent during rush hour.

Worse still, commuters who believed that being above ground might make it cooler were sadly mistaken, as temperatures on the top decks of some buses soared to 35.5C, more than 5C hotter than the maximum 30C for the transportation of cattle.

So, having arrived in a lather, what laws cover temperature when they get to work? Astonishingly, the answer is ‘none’. According to the Government’s website, there is no maximum or minimum working temperature, although employers are advised that the atmosphere must be “comfortable”.

The regulatory requirements for workplace temperatures are set by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Although there is no minimum or maximum temperature, the legislation states that a sufficient number of thermometers should be provided in any workplace inside a building, and that excessive sunlight that might raise the temperature should be avoided.

Of course, in terms of heat, what amounts to “comfortable” can vary depending on where someone is working. Employers do, however, have a general duty under health and safety legislation to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work, which would include providing clean and fresh air.

For those working in air-conditioned offices, it’s no problem but for those who don’t, there are a few things they can suggest to their employer to help them keep their cool, such as opening windows but closing blinds, having plenty of water to hand, installing fans and moving work stations away from heat sources, such as hot water pipes.

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Nigel is the Managing Partner and Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution in the London office of Mackrell Turner Garrett.