UK heatwave: How hot is too hot to work? ‘Dismay’ over ‘maximum temperature’ laws

Heatwave: Expert warns of 'unprecedented' hot period

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People working in offices and workplaces kitted out with air conditioning might be the lucky ones in the coming days, as temperatures are expected to soar to 34C next week. However, even if you have air conditioning in your workplace, the journey to and from work in the heatwave could be concerning for many employees.

While there are legal restrictions around making people go to work in certain extreme weather conditions, according to a legal expert, Britons may be “dismayed” to discover that there is no maximum temperature set out by the law to dictate when it is too hot to work.

Experts from the BPP University Law School explained: “Much to the dismay of a lot of people, there are no laws that specify a maximum temperature when an office or workplace becomes too hot to continue working.”

However, although the Workplace Regulations Act 1992 may not state a specific temperature when employees are permitted to stay at home, it does state that employers must ensure a “reasonable” temperature is maintained within the workplace.

Jonathan White, legal and compliance director at National Accident Helpline said: “Temperatures in the workplace are covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which place a legal obligation on employers to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace.

“They suggest that the minimum temperature in a workplace should be at least 16C, or if the work involves rigorous physical exertion, it can be 13C.”

Employers are bound by a legal responsibility known as “duty of care”.

BPP University Law explained: “So if several workers complain about the heat, they are legally required to carry out a risk assessment and introduce measures that keep working conditions manageable. For example, if employers are calling people into the office they must assess the risk of those having to travel on stuffy public transport, and consider whether allowing their employees to work at home will be less harmful.”

Employers must also make sure that a workplace does not become too hot and uncomfortable.

If the temperature in a working environment does become unbearable, legal experts say employers should add fans or provide air cooling cabinets to help lower the temperature of the room.

BPP University Law added: “Employers are also legally required to consider each employee’s particular circumstances such as if they have a health condition that will be put at risk if they are working in an environment that is too hot.”

This includes those who are medically vulnerable or pregnant women.

According to Mr White: “If an employer neglects their responsibility, and this results in someone falling unwell or being injured, that person may be able to claim compensation.”

What can I do if I feel it’s too hot to work?

While you are not legally allowed to claim it is too hot to go to work, there are some ways you can keep yourself cool during the heatwave without risking your employment.

Mr White said: “It is ultimately up to the employer to decide if it is too hot to work, but if you are uncomfortable, then you should speak to your employer as they are obliged to act reasonably and provide a safe working environment.”

According to BPP University Law, employees can ask permission to dress more casually or remove certain items of clothing or uniform.

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People should also wear high-factor sun cream when travelling to work or if they work outdoors, and request regular breaks in the shade.

You may be able to request your employer places a fan near where you work.

Employers are required to carry out a risk assessment and put preventive measures in place, therefore most should already introduce heat-reducing methods without request.

Make sure to drink plenty of water while working, taking care to avoid caffeine or fizzy drinks in order to stay hydrated, and work away from an area of direct sunlight.

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