As Britain basks in unusually beautiful summer weather, not everyone will be able to head to the beach. For many workers it will be “business as usual” but, with temperatures soaring are they entitled to any extra protections in the workplace? We consider employers’ obligations.

Legal temperature levels?

It may come as a surprise to learn that there are no legally enforceable maximum or minimum temperatures for workplaces, the only legal obligations is that:

During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.’

What is reasonable will entirely depend on the type of workplace. A reasonable temperature will also depend on the work activity being carried out and the environmental conditions of the workplace.Clearly what is reasonable will be different in a bakery than it would be in an office or warehouse.

Should I complain?

If you are experiencing prolonged thermal discomfort then yes, speak to your manager in the first instance. If lots of staff are finding work difficult in the conditions then your employer should take action.

Employers have a basic legal duty to protect the health and safety of all their workers. As temperatures rise there may very well be associated health risks (for example, dehydration) which an employer needs to take steps to mitigate. The best way for the employer to be proactive  would be to conduct a risk assessment.

What should an employer do?

When temperatures are particularly high, employers need to consider what measures they can take to assist workers. Given the seasonal nature of high temperatures, many of these steps need only be temporary. Examples include:

  • relaxing formal dress codes and uniform requirements. This may not be possible in environments where personal protective clothing must be worn. Instead, employers could consider: allowing people to work at a slower rate, giving longer breaks, rotating workers more frequently, postponing work until weather is cooler.
  • Being more flexible over when hours are worked to allow for an earlier/later start or shortening shifts temporarily.
  • Providing desk fans and/or mobile air conditioning units.
  • Reminding all staff to stay well hydrated and, perhaps to encourage this proving free drinks.

Ideally, employers should consult with employees or their representatives to establish sensible means to cope with high temperatures.

Further information

The Health and Safety  Executive’s website has more information.

How can we help you?

Got questions about your rights? Then talk to our employment law specialists today. We’ll help you figure out the best way forward for you.

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Updates: For employers: Day to day HR support | For employees: Grievances and raising your complaint |

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