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Heat Stress Risk In the Workplace As UK Temperatures Rise

17th December 2013

With UK temperatures expected to reach 30C over the next few days and remaining at above average for the week ahead, the number of injuries occurring in the workplace because of “heat stress” are likely to increase.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), “thermal comfort” is defined in British Standard BS EN ISO 7730 as, “that condition of mind which expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment.”

In other words, a person’s state of mind is described as whether someone is feeling too hot or too cold. Inability to properly function because of a lack of ‘thermal comfort’ can often give rise to accident claims resulting from a host of minor accidents or even physical problems serious enough to lead to a claim for injury compensation.

Heat stress occurs when the body’s means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. Air temperature, work rate, humidity and work clothing are all factors which can cause heat stress, which may not be immediately obvious to an employer, line manager even or co workers.

Typical symptoms

Individual workers may be affected in different ways and some people are more susceptible to heat stress than others.

Typical symptoms experienced are:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Muscle cramps
  • Heat rash
  • Severe thirst - a ‘late’ symptom of heat stress
  • Fainting
  • Heat exhaustion - fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, moist skin.
  • Heat stroke - hot dry skin, confusion, convulsions and eventual loss of consciousness. A most severe condition caused by heat, which can result in death if not detected at an early stage.

Regulation 7 of The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 makes provision for company employers suffering injury or illness as a result of an employer failing to ensure ‘comfortable and reasonable temperatures’, and who also may able to claim accident compensation. Exceptions are likely to include specific occupational workplaces such as steel production, foundries, bakeries, cold stores, etc

Keeping cool

Where the temperature in a workroom would otherwise be uncomfortably high, for example because of hot processes or the design of the building, all reasonable steps should be taken to achieve a reasonably comfortable temperature, such as:

  • Providing air-conditioning
  • Shading windows
  • Placing workstations away from places subject to radiant heat.
  • Insulating hot plants or pipes

Where a reasonably comfortable temperature cannot be achieved throughout a workroom, local cooling should be provided. In extremely hot weather fans and increased ventilation may be used instead of local cooling.