Employers urged to act over risk of heat stress as temperatures soar
Employers are being warned that they must take steps to keep staff comfortable during the heatwave or risk falling foul of the law.
As forecasters predict that temperatures will soar well over 30 degrees this week, employment law specialist Tim Forer of law firm Blake Morgan is reminding employers that they have a duty to make sure staff do not suffer from heat stress.
The condition occurs when the body is unable to regulate its own temperature and is caused by hot conditions combined with work activity, humidity and inappropriate clothing.
Symptoms include a loss of concentration, muscle cramps, heat rashes, fainting, exhaustion and possible heat stroke.
Tim, a barrister in Blake Morgan’s employment law team, says the fact that hot weather is so unusual in the UK means that employers may not be aware of the potential dangers of heat stress, and of the legal consequences of failing to keep staff at a reasonable temperature.
Tim says: “It might seem churlish to complain about the hot weather when for most of the year we seem to inhabit a grey, wet and cold world.
“However it may be our lack of familiarity with hot weather which poses the greatest risk as many employers will be ignorant of the dangers and perhaps blissfully unaware that any failure to control workplace temperatures could put them in breach of the criminal law.”
Tim reminds employers that they have a legal obligation under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 to provide a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace.
He adds: “Employers would be well-advised to conduct a suitable and sufficient assessment of the heat risks faced by their employees – as they are obliged to do by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
“These risk assessments should consider the type of activity being conducted and the equipment and clothing provided to employees.
“Appropriate steps need to be taken to reduce or control the risks posed by heat stress – such steps could include alteration of the work processes, enhanced breaks, increased use of fans and improvements to clothing and equipment.
“The Health and Safety Executive recommends that employers consult with employees in relation to workplace temperature issues so it would be wise for businesses to assess how they will deal with this. The cost of getting it wrong can be high.”