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Can Staff Refuse To Work If It's Too Hot?



I wrote this blog when it was boiling hot weather, unfortunately it was short lived.  But just in case we get some more of the hot stuff this summer, this blog post explores UK regulations and guidelines, concerns about working conditions and employee rights when temperatures gets uncomfortably hot.


The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) website https://www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/employer/index.htm  explains there are no legal minimum and maximum workplace temperatures.  However, it also states, "temperatures in the indoor workplace are covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which place a legal obligation on employers to provide a 'reasonable' temperature in the workplace.”


While there is no specific maximum temperature set by the UK government, employers must consider thermal comfort and take reasonable steps to ensure their employees' well-being.


Minimum workplace temperature

The Approved Code of Practice suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius. If the work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius. These temperatures are not absolute legal requirements; the employer has a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in the particular circumstances.


Higher workplace temperatures

A meaningful figure cannot be given at the upper end of the scale due to the high temperatures found in, for example, glass works or foundries. In such environments it is still possible to work safely provided appropriate controls are present. Factors other than air temperature, ie radiant temperature, humidity and air velocity, become more significant and the interaction between them become more complex with rising temperatures.


Risk assessment

In addition to the Workplace Regulations, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees, and take action where necessary and where reasonably practicable.


The temperature of the workplace is one of the potential hazards that employers should address to meet their legal obligations. Employers should consult with employees or their representatives to establish sensible means to cope with high temperatures".

For further information from HSE, click here to visit their website.

 

Employers should conduct a risk assessment to identify potential hazards caused by high temperatures. This may include evaluating factors such as humidity, air movement, and radiant heat sources.

 

Employers are expected to take appropriate measures to address any risks identified in the assessment. These may include:

 

* Providing fans, air conditioning, or shading

* Relaxing dress codes

* Adjusting work schedules or providing additional breaks

* Ensuring adequate hydration by providing drinking water

 

Making Reasonable Adjustments

An article in Personnel Today https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/working-in-a-heatwave-uk-heatwave-2022 explains that employers need to be flexible and promote sensible behaviours in the heatwave, it goes on to say...


"CIPD said that adopting flexible working arrangements including working from home could help keep employees comfortable and productive while working in a heatwave."


Where employees must attend their usual workplace, organisations should consider whether to shift start and finish times to ensure staff are not commuting during busy, crowded periods. Uniform policies could also be relaxed and plenty of fans should be brought in if the workplace is not air conditioned.


The CIPD’s wellbeing adviser, Rachel Suff, said: “While there’s no specific legal minimum or maximum temperature for workplaces in the UK, employers need to make sure the temperature in workplaces is reasonable."


“In a heatwave some workplaces, such as old buildings or those with a lot of glass, can become extremely hot and employers need to be aware of the health risks. People’s health and safety should be first and foremost and employers should be particularly mindful of people with a disability or health condition as the heat can make them particularly vulnerable."


“The heat can affect people’s level of concentration and cause fatigue, which may have health and safety implications for people working in some jobs such as safety-critical roles.”


The TUC said employers should allow frequent breaks, provide a supply of cold drinks and listen to employees’ ideas about how best to cope with the heat.


The union body also said it wanted to see a change in the law so that employers must attempt to reduce temperatures if they get above 24 degrees Celsius, and a requirement to stop work if indoor temperatures reach 30 degrees or 27 degrees for those doing strenuous jobs.


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.”


Although some employees may protest that it is “too hot to work”, Lauren Harkin, an employment partner at law firm RWK Goodman, said employees do not have a right to stop working if it gets too hot.


“Given that there are industries where it will be necessary to work in higher temperatures, such as bakeries, and metal and glass production, it is difficult to envisage what an appropriate limit for a maximum temperature would be,” she said.


“Employers do, however, have a duty of care to provide a safe environment where staff are not at risk of falling ill from the heat. For those with employees that are home working, it is sensible for line managers to check in with staff to ensure that they are well and remind employees to take breaks and stay hydrated.”


To read the full article in Personnel Today click here.

 

Employees' Rights to Refuse Work

 

In certain circumstances, employees have the right to refuse work if they believe the conditions pose an immediate and serious risk to their health and safety. This is outlined in the Employment Rights Act 1996. However, employees should still follow the usual steps when raising concerns:

 

1. Raise the issue with your employer first and attempt to resolve it informally.

2. If necessary, follow your company's formal grievance procedure.

3. Seek advice from your trade union or external agency, such as the Health and Safety Executive if the issue remains unresolved.

 

Possible Consequences of Refusing to Work

 

If staff refuse to work due to excessive heat, it could potentially result in disciplinary action or reduced pay. However, there are legal protections in place to prevent retaliation against employees who raise genuine health and safety concerns.


Advice for Employers

To avoid disputes and maintain a safe working environment, employers should proactively address potential heat-related issues. This may include monitoring weather forecasts, implementing appropriate control measures, and ensuring clear communication with their staff.

 

In conclusion, while there's no specific temperature threshold in the UK for refusing work due to heat, employees have the right to a safe working environment, and employers must take reasonable steps to protect their well-being. If employees feel that their health is at risk, they can refuse work, but it's important to follow proper procedures and seek advice to minimise any potential negative consequences.


 

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