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17th July 2013

Too hot to work?

Someone complained to me yesterday about working in an office at 25OC. Having personally worked in the steel industry at temperatures up to 50OC, I was less sympathetic than I might have been.

There is some specific  legislation about minimum temperatures in offices and other premises but, interestingly, none about maximum temperatures.

An employer does have to consider a duty of care, a question that might be raised in relation to the recent tragic deaths in the Brecon Beacons. Employers, even those where temperature elevation is modest, should be aware of dehydration risks and where elevation is not modest, heat stroke. Providing easy access to water for drinking may be a sensible starting point.

The TUC has campaigned over a number of years for a maximum working temperature of 30OC and argues that breaks in cooler environments (as are provided in Australia) should be allowed where temperatures are excessive.

The Health and Safety Executive offers more guidance and discusses factors other than temperature - although it doesn’t mention that at 50OC increased air velocity doesn’t cool humans but actually warms them even more!  There is an HSE brief guide for workplaces that are inherently hot, such as kitchens, where heat stress and hence heat stroke may be a risk.

Serious effects notwithstanding,  high working  temperatures affect employees ability to concentrate and this can lower productivity or place employees at greater risk of accidents or of making mistakes. The latter might mean service users could be at risk.

Finally if you want the maximum commitment from employees you do have to consider that psychological concept: “thermal comfort”.  Drinking water, fans, sun blinds, and even air conditioning for break-out rooms, may all pay-off in greater productivity, fewer complaints and lower risk.

Malcolm Martin - QCS Expert Contributor on Human Resources

Topics: Human Resources


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