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Posted 24 July 2018
by Stephen Jennings

Working Temperatures – When is it Too Hot to Work?

Office Supplies

The summer of 2018 is already being compared with the long, hot scorcher of 1976. Records have been broken across the UK, the words ‘hose-pipe ban’ are being whispered, and we’re all suffering from sleep deprivation due to night-time temperatures that are in the high teens. It’s hot, it’s sticky, and, unless you’re at the beach, it sucks the energy right out of you. The question is, when does it get too hot to work? Are employers legally required to keep workplaces within a certain range, and can employees insist on being sent home early if it gets too hot?

The simple answer is no. There is no law stating what the minimum or maximum working temperatures are, so it’s really down to the discretion of the employer. The guidance numbers range from a minimum of 16°C, or 13°C if employees are engaged in physical work. But they’re exactly that – just guidance numbers. They’re not enforceable by law.

More detailed guidance comes from the Health and Safety Executive, who state that employers have a duty of care towards their employees and should ensure that:

  • Temperatures are kept at a comfortable level and that extremes of temperature should be avoided. This is also known as ‘thermal comfort’.
  • Clean, fresh air should be provided at all times.

As anyone who works in an office with air conditioning is likely to have found out, opinions (often strongly expressed!) can vary widely about what temperature represents a comfortable level. However, you might consider the following if heat becomes a real problem:

  • Issue instructions about windows and doors being opened to keep premises well ventilated (assuming there is no air-conditioning)
  • If you have air conditioning, consider how best to utilise it and talk to staff – objections might be acknowledged by putting it on but at a higher temperature, or having it on for limited periods of time
  • Use fans – some employees may want to bring in their own
  • Allow flexibility of working to avoid issues – e.g. some employees may be able to work from home, or to work during the cooler hours of the day. If there are jobs which involve working in hotter conditions, can these be deferred or done at a cooler time?
  • Encourage employees to drink plenty of water
  • Keep an eye out for employees with health difficulties.

Ultimately there is a limit to what most employers can do – however many employees will (at least in their better moments) understand this. If there is little you can do in practice, do what you can – failing all else, distributing cold water or ice creams at least shows employees you are trying!

If you require any advice regarding any matter similar to this, then please do not hesitate to get in touch with our experienced team of employment law solicitors.

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About the author

Stephen Jennings

Partner and Solicitor

Partner in the litigation department specialising in employment law, he is the relationship manager for many of the firm's employment clients