Can I go home if it’s too hot at work?
Since starting my career in health and safety I get asked this question at least once every year: Can I go home from work if it’s too hot? After all, it’s common for schools to shut in the winter, and roads close due to the tiniest amounts of snow, but what about when the UK finally get’s some summer sunshine?
With the temperatures in the UK set to beat Barbados this week, a lot of workers will be thinking about how they will cope at work with the heat. The piece of legislation that everyone should refer to is The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) regulations 1992, but to be honest, it’s a bit vague. So lets try and demystify the regulations and give you the best guidance possible to help you and your employer manage the up and coming heat wave.
The Health and Safety Legislation
The legislation sets out minimum work temperatures but they don’t state the upper temperature limits; all they say is that the employer must ensure that the temperature in the workplace is suitable. Now if you’ve ever worked in a building with other people you’ll know that this is very subjective, because some people feel heat and cold more than others.
There have been some attempts by different bodies such as the Trade Union Congress (TUC), that have said that a maximum temperature of 30 degrees Celsius should be the maximum temperature inside a workplace (not outside,) and the ideal temperature is 24 degrees Celsius.
There is the chartered institute of Building Engineers who state that it should be varied according to the type of work someone is doing: Where a job is manual such as in a factory, there should be a minimum of 18 degrees Celsius, and an office should be 20 degrees Celsius because it is less active. Should the temperature be higher, it doesn’t mean that you can leave work.
So in summary, there is nothing conclusive or confirmed, but don’t despair- keep reading.
Thermal Comfort Factors
There are other factors that can affect thermal comfort such as radiant temperatures from equipment,heat sources, humidity, air movement, the physical nature of their job and clothing/ personal protective equipment.
You may need a specialist to carry out some of the measurements, but the most important thing is how it’s affecting the people working in the building.
The dangers of heat stress
Heat stress is a very real risk, and it can cause severe health effects such as
- heat exhaustion.
- heat stroke.
- lack of attention leading to mistakes.
- not being able to grip things properly due to sweat.
- and in some serious cases death- very, very, very serious cases.
What can you do if your workplace is too hot?
- Speak to your manager about how hot it is in the office.
- Check out what people are wearing, if its hot try and wear thin, loose layers of natural fabrics such as cotton. n.b. Synthetic materials do not let the skin breathe and can cause a person to be hotter.
- Get fans and temporary Air Conditioning Units.
- Close blinds
- Drink lots of water, and you should avoid caffeine because it dehydrates you.
- Take breaks and go somewhere cooler if possible.
- Move your workstation to somewhere away room heat sources, whether it be a window or a hot water pipe etc.
- Rearrange shifts so people can work early mornings or later in to the afternoon to avoid the peak temperatures of the day.
- Monitor the temperature and keep up to date on weather forecasts so you can plan ahead.
What temperature can you go home from work in the UK?
In summary, there is no maximum temperature, but if there is a thermal comfort issue in your workplace please follow the advice above, and also speak to your employer.
A risk assessment should be carried out and a selection of control measures are implemented to improve thermal comfort.
The HSE have a really useful kit called the thermal comfort checklist, which is a helpful tool for employers to work with to assess the level of thermal comfort in the workplace.
Can I go home if it’s too hot at work?
We help employers complete workplace thermal comfort checklists- please get in touch here