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Heatwave ‘Level Three’ Warning Stokes Up Occupational Accident Risk

17th December 2013
Employers may be breaking the law if they fail to protect workers from the effects of extreme heat as mercury levels are forecast to bubble up over 32C, bringing a “level-three” warning of heatwave to the southeast and other parts of England and Wales in the coming days.

Falling victim to accident or illness, which may lead to injuries and injury claims caused by individual inability to cope with severe heat in the workplace, may be attributable to employer neglect, disregard or confusion over actions required to be taken.

MAX Temp

While Regulation 7 of The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 instructs employers to ensure ‘comfortable and reasonable temperatures’ for their workforce, there is no maximum working temperature in force. Some concerned groups have long called for a maximum working temperature of between 27–30C but others argue that a consensus across all industries is unlikely to be ever reached

According to the Health and Safety Executive(HSE), the law also does not state a minimum temperature, but workrooms should normally be at least 16°C or 13°C where physical / manual labour is being carried out. It is in the application of regulation that can cause issues, especially in naturally high temperature workplaces, such as a bakery.

Heat Stress Risk

However, as is often pointed out, while most sensible employers will take measures to keep their staff cool and comfortable, there are likely to be countless numbers of small offices, factories and work units where lack of adequate ventilation and the necessity for maintaining production levels can give rise to accidents and illness.

Employees who are at greater risk of succumbing to heat stress include those aged 65 years or older, are overweight, suffer heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medication.

Dress Code

There is also the complex issue of either maintaining or relaxing company dress code according to industry sector. Most professional occupations and “customer-facing” male staff may be obliged to wear suit, tie and shoes while workers employed in specific occupations need to wear heavy duty protective clothing.

The company handbook and an individual terms of employment contract will stipulate the requirements. However, each employer can make a considered decision where necessary to help staff working during extremes of hot weather.

It is recommended that employers can avoid staff illness and accidents occurring because of overheating and dizziness, which may lead to slips, trips and falls, by introducing air conditioning, installing fans, providing cold drinking water and moving staff away from working near windows.