As temperatures climb, it’s time to talk about your rights.
When temperatures climb in the UK, it’s increasingly difficult to motivate ourselves into tackling our daily commute and heading into the office.
Some organisations say workers should be allowed to stay at home if the mercury is too high, with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) arguing a boiling work place is “more than just an issue about comfort”.
“If the temperature goes too high then it can become a health and safety issue,” they said. “If people get too hot, they risk dizziness, fainting, or even heat cramps.
“In very hot conditions the body’s blood temperature rises. If the blood temperature rises above 39°C, there is a risk of heat stroke or collapse.”
So what constitutes “too high”?
The TUC wants to make it illegal for employers to keep people at work indoors if the temperature is above 30°C. They have also strongly suggested that protection be put in place for people working outside or driving for a living too.
However, there is no legally defined maximum or minimum temperature for offices themselves. What there is instead is the 1992 Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations, which states that: “During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable”. The coldest a workplace can be is 16°C – or 13°C, so long as the work involves rigorous physical effort.
The rule claims that a maximum figure cannot be given, due to the high temperatures that come hand-in-hand with working in certain industries.
Things could be set to change, though, if certain politicians get their way.
In the summer of 2016, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn proposed an Early Day Motion asking the Government to make the TUC’s recommendation into law.
At the time, Corbyn said: “Good employers will have been taking steps to help out their workers in the heatwave. But putting a maximum temperature into law will give everyone a legal right to basic protections from working in unbearable conditions.”
And, courtesy of MP Ian Mearns, there is a petition circulating online demanding that the government adopt the recommendations set by the TUC.
For now, though, it’s worth remembering that there is some good news for those finding it too much: with no official limit, you can take action whenever people deem the temperature to be “uncomfortable”.
The government’s Health and Safety Executive board states: “If a significant number of employees are complaining about thermal discomfort, your employer should carry out a risk assessment, and act on the results of that assessment.”
It adds that if you're a more vulnerable employee – for example, you have a thyroid imbalance, are pregnant or undergoing the menopause, or need to wear protective equipment at work so can't take off layers – that also has to be taken into account.
In the meantime, the TUC has asked employers to allow staff to take frequent breaks, provide a regular supply of cool drinks and take measures to cool the workplace down if the temperature exceeds 24°C indoors.
They have also asked that they relax dress codes in hot weather, allowing staff to remove ties and jackets, as well as wear casual lightweight clothing.
TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady, said: “While many of us will welcome the sunshine and warm temperatures this week, working in sweltering conditions can be unbearable and dangerous.
“Employers can give their staff a break by relaxing dress code rules temporarily and ensuring staff doing outside work are protected.
“Obviously shorts and flip-flops won’t be the right attire for all workers, but no one should be made to suffer unnecessarily in the heat for the sake of appearances.”
This article was originally published in June 2017.
Images: NBC / Rex Features