Britain's most recent heatwave has resurrected the idea of having a legal maximum working temperature. Where work is performed in buildings without air conditioning, the heat can cause health issues, including dizziness, fainting and vomiting. Higher temperatures also put those with serious health concerns (for example, cardiac, kidney and respiratory diseases) at greater risk.
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that employers must maintain a reasonable temperature in the workplace. The minimum temperature, whilst not explicitly stated in the regulations, is widely agreed to be 16°C (or 13°C where work requires considerable physical activity); however, currently there is no maximum temperature. Having no maximum working temperature may have been fine previously, but with heatwaves on the increase, more and more employers are facing complaints from staff in relation to the heat. In light of this, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) is now campaigning for a maximum legal temperature for indoor workplaces of 30°C (27°C where work requires considerable physical activity) as well as an obligation on employers to take action to cool down the workplace when temperatures hit 24°C.
Whether or not a legal maximum is introduced, employers should be aware of their obligation to maintain a reasonable temperature. Where air conditioning is not available, providing fans or allowing employees to wear casual clothes (where appropriate) are two examples of simple measures that employers can take to ensure the comfort and productivity of their staff.
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