With the challenges of the recent heatwave still lingering in all of our minds, and more warm weather on the horizon, this article reviews the law surrounding legal temperature limits in the workplace and the proposed legislative reforms aimed at safeguarding workers as we continue to adjust to our changing climate.
The current legal position
As things stand, there is no legal limit on temperatures at work, although the Health & Safety Executive does advise that workplaces should ideally be at least 16 degrees centigrade, or 13 degrees centigrade if the job is mostly physical. They go on to advise that workplace temperatures should be “reasonable” and the Government does recommend a “comfortable” working environment, with access to fresh air.
It does seem as if the rights of employees in relation to workplace temperature has not kept up to pace with changing climate trends.
Call for action
On 11th July 2022, several MPs signed an early day motion calling on the Government to introduce legislation to ensure employers maintain reasonable temperatures in the workplace for their staff. The motion specifically stated, “Recent surveys of workplace Health & Safety representatives show that high temperatures are one of their top concerns…workers in the UK have no guaranteed legal safeguards from working in uncomfortable high temperatures, and the consequences of this range from dizziness, tiredness, asthma, throat infections and, in extreme cases, heat stroke and death.”
The motion further states that if a maximum temperature of 30 degrees centigrade is reached (or 27 degrees centigrade for strenuous work), an employer should have a statutory duty to introduce control measures, such as ventilation or moving staff away from windows and sources of heat.
This call is echoed by the TUC, who want there to be a requirement to stop work if indoor temperatures reach 30 degrees centigrade or, again, 27 degrees centigrade for those doing strenuous jobs.
While the GMB agree with all this in principle, and are keen for the health and safety of workers to be protected during heatwaves, they are seeking a maximum workplace temperature of 25 degrees centigrade and for this to be enshrined in law.
Lynsey Mann, the Health & Safety Officer of the GMB, said, “This hot weather is great for being on the sun lounger, but if you are trying to work through it’s no joke. Bosses need to do everything possible to keep workplaces cool and, more importantly, safe. Ultimately, there needs to be a legal maximum working temperature.”
On a similar note, software platform, Bright HR, reported that on the 18th July 2022, which coincided with the recent heatwave, there was a 59% increase in the number of requests for leave. In the preceding week, there was a 15% increase in absence due to illness. Their CEO, Alan Price, correctly reminded employers that “when an employee calls in sick when the weather is good, it can be easy to jump to conclusions, but don’t assume that every absence is fake…there will be genuine cases of illness.”
Expectations for the future
It is apparent that as temperatures rise, workplace legislation should keep pace in order to protect the health and safety of employees. However, it is doubtful that a change in law along the lines sought by the group of MPs and Trade Unions will occur in the very near future, as there is so much other employment legislation waiting to be addressed. There is, of course, also an issue as to whether one size fits all and one maximum workplace temperature is appropriate and reasonable for each and every type of working environment.
If you require guidance on this issue, or have any other queries in relation to employment or HR law, please contact Jonathan Moreland by email at email@example.com or Sharney Randhawa at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them on 0191 3842441.