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Working During A Heatwave

Working During A Heatwave

As a business owner or manager, you have a legal responsibility to protect your employees’ health and safety at work. This includes taking steps to manage the impact of hot weather when working during a heatwave.

As an employer, you can successfully navigate heatwaves in the following ways:

  • Monitor temperatures and escalate plans at heatwave alerts
  • Provide cooling, ventilation, hydration, and PPE
  • Adjust working hours and patterns to avoid hot periods
  • Schedule frequent breaks and limit time in heat
  • Risk assessment for outdoor work and high-temperature tasks
  • Allow loose, breathable clothing if possible
  • Train workers on heat stress risks and precautions
  • Check on vulnerable staff and those working alone
  • Review procedures after heatwaves and implement improvements
  • Communicate heat plans clearly and positively to employees
  • Lead by example with management behaviour
  • Recognise heat stress symptoms fast and take action
  • Adapt policies around remote work, travel, and absence if heat impacts staff
  • Balance productivity with health, safety always takes priority

With summer temperatures on the rise and heat waves becoming more common, you must understand your obligations and have plans in place. By taking a proactive, adaptive approach employers can fulfil legal duties and protect staff wellbeing during hot weather.

What is a Heatwave?

The Met Office defines a heatwave as at least three consecutive days with daily maximum temperatures meeting or exceeding the heatwave temperature threshold. This threshold varies by UK county. For example, in London, the threshold is 32°C while in Cardiff it’s 31°C.

A Level 2 heatwave alert is issued across a region when the threshold is exceeded for one day and the following night. A Level 3 alert comes into play when the threshold is exceeded for two days and the following night. A Level 4, or a ‘national emergency’, is triggered when Level 3 is reached for at least two consecutive days across at least two regions.

The Dangers of Working in Hot Weather

Exposing employees to hot conditions without proper precautions can lead to heat stress. This occurs when the body absorbs more heat than it can cope with, increasing core body temperature.

Heat stress disorders include:

  • Heat rash – clusters of red bumps on the skin
  • Heat cramps – painful muscle spasms
  • Heat exhaustion – heavy sweating, rapid pulse, dizziness, fatigue
  • Heat stroke – body temperature over 40°C, confusion, loss of consciousness

Without urgent treatment, heat stroke can lead to permanent disability or death. Those most at risk include outdoor workers, those with long exposure to heat, older employees, and those with health conditions affecting heat tolerance. However, heat stress can affect anyone in hot environments if control measures are inadequate.

Your Legal Responsibilities

As an employer, you have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees. More specifically, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess health risks and put control measures in place.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that temperatures in workplaces should be “reasonable”. The Approved Code of Practice defines reasonable as normally being at least 16°C or 13°C for strenuous work. While there’s no maximum limit, the temperature should not reach uncomfortable levels.

Failing to manage hot conditions and the risk of heat stress could see you facing enforcement action. In extreme cases, breaches of health and safety law can result in fines of up to £20,000 in magistrates’ court or unlimited fines in crown court. Individual managers could face imprisonment.

How to Manage Hot Working Conditions

How to Manage Hot Working Conditions

Here are some key ways you can manage hot conditions and meet your legal duties:

Risk Assessment

  • Assess the risks from hot weather across your business. Consider factors like workplace temperatures, working outdoors, strenuous labour, and employee health.

Policies & Planning

  • Have a hot weather policy detailing precautions like shade, ventilation, work scheduling changes, and other control measures.
  • Plan ahead for hot weather and communicate procedures to employees. Be prepared to escalate plans during a heatwave alert.

Temperature Monitoring

  • Monitor indoor and outdoor workplace temperatures throughout hot weather. Act quickly if they become excessive.

Ventilation & Cooling

  • Use fans, cooling systems, and shading to regulate temperatures. Open windows and doors when possible.

Hydration

  • Provide easy access to cool drinking water. Encourage employees to drink frequently.

Work Patterns

  • Schedule physically demanding tasks for cooler times of the day. Introduce rest breaks and shorten shifts.

PPE & Clothing

  • Allow lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. Make sunscreen available. Provide sun hats for outdoor work.

First Aid

  • Have trained first aiders available. Know the symptoms of heat stress disorders and how to treat them.

Worker Education

  • Educate employees on risks, symptoms, and staying hydrated in the heat. Tailor advice to vulnerable individuals.

Ongoing Review

  • Continuously review control measures and make improvements. Update plans based on evolving best practices.

By taking a proactive approach and implementing control measures early, you can reduce the risks of heat stress. This helps avoid loss of productivity from heat exhaustion and illness, as well as potential liability.

Example Heatwave Action Plan

To give a sense of heatwave preparedness in practice, here is an outline heatwave action plan you could adopt:

  • Level 1 Heatwave Alert (30°C – 32°C)
    • Communicate hot weather warnings to employees
    • Provide regular reminders to drink water
    • Relax dress code policies
    • Schedule outdoor work for cooler times
  • Level 2 Heatwave Alert (32°C – 34°C)
    • Activate daily workplace temperature monitoring
    • Enforce rest breaks and shade for outdoor work
    • Set up fans and ventilation where possible
    • Move or reschedule strenuous indoor tasks
    • Distribute sunscreen and refreshments
  • Level 3 Heatwave Alert (34°C+)
    • Shorten shifts or introduce later start times
    • Halt non-essential outdoor work
    • Close non-essential indoor areas without cooling
    • Provide extra supervision for high-risk activities
    • Activate emergency response plans as needed
  • Level 4 National Emergency
    • Stop all non-essential work
    • Initiate remote working for office-based employees
    • Keep outdoor work areas locked down
    • Provide health assistance for employees at work
    • Liaise with authorities regarding business operations

This gives you an escalating set of control measures to limit heat exposure and heat stress risk. The exact details should be customised to your specific business activities and discussed with employees.

Special Considerations for Outdoor Work

Employees who work outdoors or in hot environments are more vulnerable to heat stress. As well as general precautions, consider:

  • Mandating the use of sunscreen, hats, and UV-protective clothing
  • Providing portable shade structures and resting areas
  • Supplying cool drinking water in all outdoor work vehicles
  • Arranging job rotations to limit time spent in the heat
  • Stopping work if temperatures exceed set limits
  • Providing air-conditioned rest areas where indoor cooling is possible

Vehicle and Transport Considerations

Travelling in hot vehicles increases the threat of heat stress. Important precautions include:

  • Parking in shaded areas whenever possible
  • Opening windows while driving for ventilation
  • Having air conditioning serviced and checked before summer
  • Avoiding setting off during the hottest part of the day
  • Providing water bottles in vehicles
  • Taking regular comfort breaks in air-conditioned buildings

Remote and Home Workers

With remote work increasing, don’t overlook employees away from your premises. Recommendations include:

  • Discussing heat plans with home and remote workers
  • Allowing flexible hours to avoid the hottest times of day
  • Encouraging regular breaks and hydration
  • Providing advice on controlling home temperatures
  • Setting maximum temperature thresholds for remote work
  • Offering temporary office workspaces if the home gets too hot

Non-Compliance Consequences

If the HSE inspects and finds you’ve failed to manage hot working conditions, you could face:

  • An Improvement Notice – legally requiring you to take specified actions to comply with the law
  • A Prohibition Notice – banning you from carrying out certain activities until issues are fixed
  • Prosecution – for the most serious breaches, leading to substantial fines or even imprisonment

Enforcement action also causes reputational damage and loss of trust from employees. By contrast, visibly valuing staff well-being builds loyalty and retention.

Real-Life Legal Consequences

Some recent UK prosecutions related to heat stress and workplace temperature regulation:

  • A Kent pet food manufacturer was fined £150,000 in 2021 after a worker suffered a heat stroke and later died. A lack of risk assessment and insufficient hydration were cited.
  • A Nottingham bakery received a £26,000 fine in 2019 when an employee died after working nine-hour shifts in temperatures exceeding 30°C.
  • In 2018, a Somerset metal coatings company was prosecuted after a staff member suffered kidney failure from dehydration and heat exhaustion. The HSE investigation found poor ventilation and a lack of suitable work breaks.

Adapting Work Uniforms and Dress Codes

For employees required to wear uniforms or follow dress codes, consider adapting these rules during hot weather. Allow non-mandatory lighter shirts, blouses, pants, skirts, etc and relax rules on shorts or rolled-up sleeves.

Prioritise functional clothing over appearances – waive formal policies as needed when temperatures rise. Make it clear staff don’t need to wear ties, blazers, and suits if it risks heat stress.

For workers with protective clothing and PPE, look into breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics and ventilated designs. Schedule extra breaks to cool off. Have spare equipment to change out sweat-soaked garments.

Think flexibility – what may be appropriate back-office business attire could be dangerous for staff working in hot workshops or outdoors. Consult employees directly on suitable adjustments.

Recognising the Signs of Heat Stress

Recognising the Signs of Heat Stress

Make sure managers and employees can recognise the signs of heat stress disorders:

  • Heat rash – Red clustered bumps on skin that can feel prickly or itchy
  • Heat cramps – Painful muscle spasms and twitches usually in the legs or abdomen
  • Heat exhaustion – Heavy sweating, pale clammy skin, fatigue, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, weak rapid pulse
  • Heat stroke – Body temp over 40°C/104°F, confusion and loss of consciousness, seizures or lack of sweating

Take any potential heat stress seriously. Left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress rapidly into heat stroke, which is a life-threatening medical emergency requiring professional help. Know procedures for responding and transporting workers showing signs of heat illness.

Additional Policy Ideas for Heatwaves

Alongside workplace adjustments, consider wider policy changes to help staff avoid hot conditions:

  • Permitting remote work from home if temperatures are cooler there
  • Staggering hours to prevent commuting during the hottest times
  • Relaxing summer dress code and attire rules
  • Evaluating sickness policies if heat affects attendance
  • Defining temperature limits that pause certain work activities
  • Preparing for power outages or cooling system failures

Informing employees about these policies shows you value their well-being and a supportive stance can lift morale and output during heat that is difficult to work in.

Promote Heat Plans Positively

Avoid framing heat measures negatively, like “restricting breaks”. Instead use upbeat messaging about providing cooling aids, extra rests, suitable clothing and so on. Present it as enabling safe, comfortable working in the heat.

Remind managers these steps are compulsory, not optional “perks”. Communicate that happy, healthy staff benefit the business. So champion heat plans proactively. Lead by example. Employees will follow if they see you taking it seriously.

Assess and Upgrade Heat Procedures

View initial heatwave plans as a starting point. Review their effectiveness after hot periods and make enhancements. Ask yourself:

  • Did any personnel still experience heat stress? If so, why?
  • Were certain jobs or areas hotter than anticipated?
  • Did staff struggle with uniform or PPE rules?
  • Did outdoor teams have adequate sun protection and breaks?
  • Were heat policies implemented fully by all managers?

Use reviews to improve plans for the next warm season. Monitor for updated legal guidance too. Surveys can reveal where existing rules miss the mark or need better enforcement.

Ongoing upgrades keep heat strategies effective and this also develops workplace resilience as summers get hotter.

Working During A Heatwave In Summary

Rising summer temperatures make managing hot working conditions an increasingly important employer responsibility. Failing to take action can put your staff’s health and safety at serious risk.

By completing a thorough risk assessment, implementing an escalating heatwave action plan, and actively monitoring workplace temperatures, you can minimise the dangers of working during a heatwave.

Ensure that you provide shade, ventilation, cool drinks, PPE, and modified work patterns. Communicate clearly with employees and respond rapidly to heat alerts.

With adequate precautions guided by your knowledge of legal duties, your business can operate safely through heat waves. Your employees will appreciate you taking their wellbeing seriously during hot weather.

 

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