Health and Safety Measures to Take When Employees Are Working in Hot Weather

As summer gets into full swing and temperatures soar (in an optimistic world), employers are being urged to take measures in mitigating the potential hazards of working in hot weather.

Recent amber warnings in the UK and extreme temperatures seen in other parts of Europe including Greece and Spain have recently brought the issue of hot weather sharply into focus.

And although there is no specific guidance on maximum temperature limits, the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is encouraging employers to consider the safety of workers during periods of high temperatures this summer.

Extreme Heat: A Health and Safety Hazard

The HSE is the UK’s workplace health and safety regulator, and the department has urged employers to act to ensure workers are protected during periods of extreme heat. Working during times of excessive heat not only causes discomfort for those affected, but it can also potentially be dangerous, and in some cases fatal.

It’s a view shared by the GMB, one of the country’s biggest unions, representing over half a million workers. This is why both organisations are urging employers to take preventative measures to avoid potential increases in accidents, injuries or adverse health issues.

Surprisingly, there is no specific advice on maximum temperature limits (despite the extreme and unprecedented climates last year) except for guidance that suggests a minimum of between 13ºC to 16ºC is acceptable for workers.

However, the HSE does consider extreme heat as a hazard. This applies to those working indoors or outdoors and as such, employers should find ways to mitigate the risks.

Practical Measures to Mitigate Extreme Heat

Following higher-than-usual temperatures in the summer of 2022 and global warming making such temperatures the new normal, companies must be proactive to protect workers.

Practical measures to mitigate extreme heat include using blinds or reflective film to improve indoor shade, as well as keeping workstations away from direct sunlight. Insulating machinery or hot pipes and providing employees with weather-appropriate PPE is also a good idea.

Other measures to consider include offering workers flexible working hours so they can undertake work in cooler hours as well as relaxing dress codes where possible. Warmer temperatures increase the likelihood of employee fatigue which can result in a fall in concentration and an increase in accidents. In addition to the above, the HSE and GMB suggest the following for employees working indoors:

  • Educating staff on the symptoms of heat stress and how to combat it
  • Good Ventilation – this can be achieved by opening windows and using air conditioning units, and fans
  • Insulating buildings
  • Providing extra breaks and access to cold drinks

For employees whose roles require working outdoors with more exposure to direct sunlight, additional measures can include:

  • The use of high-factor sunscreen
  • Loose-fitting uniforms/ clothing made of close-woven fabrics
  • Access to hats, neck protection and cooling vests where possible
  • Scheduling regular breaks
  • Copious amounts of cold drinks to keep workers hydrated
  • Working in the shade when possible

As mentioned above, companies can also offer employees flexible working hours to avoid working during the hottest times of the day, which is generally between 11 am and 3 pm. With potential side effects such as heatstroke, dizziness or fainting, and a loss of concentration particularly when using heavy machinery. Protecting staff from the heat is an important responsibility for employees.

As our summers get hotter, companies will have to implement more permanent health and safety measures to ensure workers are protected from the heat. Thankfully most businesses recognise that implementing such measures is an investment in their workers and a great way of maintaining or improving productivity during the hot summer months.

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