Last Monday (11 July), the TUC appealed to employers to make sure their staff are protected from the sun and heat after the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) issued a heat-health alert.
A Level 2 heat-health alert has been issued for the South West, East Midlands, West Midlands, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber regions. A Level 3 alert has also been issued for the East of England, South East and London regions.
Both alert levels were set to be in place until 9am on 15 July, with warm weather forecast across the country throughout the course of the week.
The TUC advise that working in hot weather can lead to dehydration, muscle cramps, rashes, fainting, and – in the most extreme cases – loss of consciousness. Outdoor workers are three times more likely to develop skin cancer, it says.
The TUC says employers can help their workers by:
Sun protection: prolonged sun exposure is dangerous for outdoor workers, so employers should provide sunscreen.
Allowing flexible working: giving staff the chance to come in earlier or stay later will let them avoid the stifling and unpleasant conditions of the rush hour commute. Bosses should also consider enabling staff to work from home while it is hot.
Keeping workplace buildings cool: workplaces can be kept cooler and more bearable by taking simple steps such as opening windows, using fans, moving staff away from windows or sources of heat.
Climate-proofing workplaces: preparing buildings for increasingly hot weather, by installing ventilation, air-cooling and energy efficiency measures.
Temporarily relaxing workplace dress codes: encouraging staff to work in more casual clothing than normal – leaving the jackets and ties at home – will help them keep cool.
Keeping staff comfortable: allowing staff to take frequent breaks and providing a supply of cold drinks.
Talking and listening to staff and their union: staff will have their own ideas about how best to cope with the excessive heat.
Sensible hours and shaded areas for outdoor workers: outside tasks should be scheduled for early morning and late afternoon, not between 11am-3pm when UV radiation levels and temperatures are highest. Bosses should provide canopies/shades where possible.
There’s no law on maximum working temperatures. However, during working hours the temperature in all indoor workplaces must be ‘reasonable’.
Employers have a duty to keep the temperature at a comfortable level and provide clean and fresh air.
The TUC says it would like to see a change in the law so that employers must attempt to reduce temperatures if they get above 24 degrees C and workers feel uncomfortable. And employers should be obliged to provide sun protection and water.
The TUC would also like ministers to introduce a new absolute maximum indoor temperature, set at 30 degrees C (or 27 degrees C for those doing strenuous jobs), to indicate when work should stop.
With climate change bringing higher temperatures to the UK, the government needs a plan on how to adapt and keep workers safe, it says.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all love it when the sun comes out. But working in sweltering conditions in a baking shop or stifling office can be unbearable and dangerous.
“Indoor workplaces should be kept cool, with relaxed dress codes and flexible working to make use of the coolest hours of the day.
“And bosses must make sure outdoor workers are protected with regular breaks, lots of fluids, plenty of sunscreen and the right protective clothing.”
TUC July 2022