The recent spate of hot weather in the UK has thrown up some issues surrounding the health of workers and brought to the forefront, the employer’s duty of care towards their employees. Following the Parliamentary motion stating that if temperatures rise above 30 degrees Celsius then workers should be sent home, we ran a survey asking your opinion on the matter. Over half (56%) of people agreed that employers should address heat related issues for their workers when the temperature rises – interesting we thought, that this was such a tight result though.
Employers are bound by a duty of care towards their employees to give them an appropriate working environment. Currently, the Health and Safety Executive states that ‘workplaces must be kept at a “reasonable temperature” of at least 16 degrees centigrade or 13 degrees if the work is strenuous’, however there is nothing specific as yet regarding high temperatures. Exposure to high temperatures, whether from equipment or the weather, puts workers at risk of various heat related health conditions – and in the worst case scenario, can end up in fatalities.
Heat stress is a term used to describe a collection of different health complaints that arise when the body is unable to control its internal temperature. Not just reliant on the internal temperature of the workplace, heat stress can also be triggered by strenuous work, humidity and the clothing worn by employees. Symptoms of heat stress include muscle cramps, heat rash, fainting and fatigue. In the most severe cases heat stress can also cause confusion and convulsions, hot dry skin and eventual loss of consciousness.
But it is not only the health of employees at risk in conditions where the temperature is rising. The health of the company itself is also under fire: work can grind to a halt through employee sickness – certainly, according to research, productivity falls, and in extreme cases the company can be exposed to prosecution or fines from failure to protect their workers.
Reducing the risk of heat stress involves taking steps to remove or reduce the sources of heat. This can be easily solved by controlling the temperature of the workplace, but other suggestions include providing mechanical aids to reduce the amount of strenuous work employees have to do, providing hydration for workers, allowing employees to acclimatise to their environment and identifying workers who are more susceptible to the heat.
Although some workplaces are at risk from heat stress all year round, most businesses are only liable in the summer months when the weather outside heats up. Because of the seasonality of the causes of heat stress, installing air conditioning for a workplace may not be a practical approach, especially in the short term. Air conditioning hire is the ideal solution for companies who want to protect their employees without having to raise their overheads.