Working sensibly in hot weather

In the light of the recent spell of exceptionally hot weather, it is important for both employers and employees to play a responsible role, to ensure everyone remains healthy and able to operate normally when at work.

The HSE state there are minimum legal temperatures for indoor workers in HSE guidance (13⁰C for physical work, 16⁰C for other staff), however, there is no current guidance relating to maximum temperatures.

Therefore, it is important to take into consideration each persons personal tolerance level/ state of health.
Outdoor/factory workers and those in confined spaces especially, are at risk from the effects of temperatures greater than 30’. However, any person may become affected by high temperatures, and awareness of the symptoms and knowledge of how to minimise these is crucial.

Risks to health include dehydration, headaches, heat stroke and sunburn. Eyesight can also be affected, which in turn can effect work efficiency and ability.

Workers operating machinery are particularly at risk from accidents due to lack of concentration if over-heated. There are several ways to minimise the risks of ill-effects from excessive temperatures, which include:
• Keeping regularly hydrated – water is preferable to diuretic drinks such as tea
• Taking regular breaks
• Wearing appropriate clothing, bearing in mind the dangers of sun damage to the skin
• The use of sun-block of factor 30 or above in high temperatures in working outdoors
• Aerate offices/workplaces with good ventilation/use of extra fans if air con is not an option
• Work in a cooler part of the workplace if possible

Employers can assist their employees and have a duty of care to do so. This will help create a more healthy and productive workplace, which is in the benefit of all. Ways in which this can be done are:

• Ensure regular breaks are taken
• Providing blinds in offices to block sun/moving desks out of direct sunlight
• Fans and air conditioning may be used as long as these are used correctly and all additional electrical appliances are checked for safe use
• A less formal approach to work attire may be taken, such as not wearing ties, being able to wear more casual yet appropriate clothing etc.
• Alter shift times to enable the option of working at cooler times.

Heat stress can be observed in the following ways:
• Concentration may be affected
• A heat rash may become present
• A person may begin to suffer muscle cramps
• Fainting
• Heat exhaustion, which presents itself by fatigue, giddiness, headache, nausea and moist skin
• Heat stroke, which presents itself by confusion, convulsions, hot dry skin, and eventual loss of consciousness.
• Persons developing a severe thirst, which is a late symptom of heat stress.

Heat stroke is the most severe disorder and can result in death if not detected at an early stage, so be aware of your own and your colleagues condition when working in extreme temperatures.

Please also be aware that young persons, those with medical conditions, the elderly, and pregnant women may need monitoring more closely.