UK heatwave: Advice for businesses

The Met Office has warned that parts of Britain could become warmer than the Algarve as a heatwave sweeps across the UK, and Public Health England has responded by issuing an amber heat-health warning – just one level below the ‘national emergency’ red warning.
From a pleasant 25°C in Glasgow and Edinburgh to a scorching 35°C in London, the current heatwave could smash the high record of 36.7°C currently held for the hottest day in July. The highest ever UK temperature - 38.5°C - set in Faversham in August 2003, is also currently ‘under threat’.

Temperatures in offices, factories and all indoor workplaces have to be reasonable, but there is no current law dictating a minimum or maximum temperature that employers must adhere to. A minimum of 16ºC (or 13ºC if employees are doing physical work) is set as a guide, but no existing regulation commands exact temperature levels.

However, employers must adhere to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which includes keeping the temperature at a comfortable level and providing clean and fresh air. HSE guidelines also advise that employers should make sure their workers have access to water during the hot weather. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is also working on making it illegal to keep people at work indoors if the temperature is above 30°C.

It is essential that businesses understand the full spectrum of the risk, not only focusing on the impact on infrastructure and supply chains, but also measuring how workers are affected and begin to adjust their policies accordingly. The TUC advises that businesses should let employees start late or finish early to escape the hot conditions in packed commuter trains, tubes and buses, and employers are also encouraged to allow staff to work flexible hours or from home during this stifling heatwave.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘While many of us love to see the sun, it’s no fun working in a baking office or a stifling factory. Bosses should do all they can to keep the temperature down.’

To reduce risks in a heatwave, managers and staff should:
- engage and plan ahead with partner agencies and resilience groups
- have suitable business continuity plans in place
- identify employees vulnerability and address what extra help they might need

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