It’s hot one minute, cold the next. It’s cold when it’s meant to be hot, or hot when it’s meant to be cold. Raining when it’s meant to be bone-dry, or visa versa, it’s got to be the British summer. Even the coming week/weekend is looking to bring 31C temperature in some places alongside other areas getting localised flooding and storms!
Recently the weather across most of the UK has been on the warm and sunny side for extended periods (woo, cheers global warming), and there’s been new temperature records set for the UK, not everyone is able to completely enjoy it. In fact, pretty much most working people have been having to keep cool and carry on. But what are the actual rules and law of the land with regards to working in high temperatures?
Although there are some rules that can let you leave an office that's too hot in certain circumstances, and employers must provide a safe working environment that is without risks to health (and must therefore assess risks and introduce any necessary prevention or control measures), there is currently no official suggested limit of temperature. This gives employers a lot of leeway when enforcing rules around working conditions in high temperatures. The TUC (Trades Union Congress) however is looking to change this. The idea is to implement various protective legislative provisions for people working outside or driving, as well as making it illegal to keep workers, indoors at work, should the temperature rise above 30C. It further implores employers to introduce cooling measures from 24C upwards (keep it coming global warming).
Some executives, however, argue that there is already enough regulation in place to protect workers. They argue that bringing in new rules will be challenging to maintain and implement due to the variety of working conditions across different industries. For example someone working in glass works or foundries, will be, by default, working at higher temperatures that an office worker is used to or comfortable with.
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 lay down particular requirements for most aspects of the working environment, with regulation 7 dealing specifically with the temperature in indoor workplaces. It states that: "During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable." However, the application of the regulation depends on the nature of the workplace, such as a bakery, a cold store, an office, a warehouse etc. Employers also have an obligation to provide “clean, fresh air” as well as keep temperatures at a comfortable level.
So, in answer to what the current precedence for all workers is (with regards to working in hot weather), there are some rules for extreme circumstances, but the writing between the lines is very blurry and easily manipulated due to lack of definitive boundaries/limits. However, there is still a positive obligation (and it involves a team effort, so a good practice for your work) on employers where, currently, if a significant number of employees complain about thermal discomfort, the employer should carry out a risk assessment. They should therefore act on the results of that assessment. Simply, if you're uncomfortable in the workplace during such temperature extremes, tell your boss. Alongside enough of your work peers raising the issue, your employer is likely to carry out a risk assessment, and act on the results - though don’t go thinking this means you’ll automatically be sent home straight away when it’s just a little bit too warm for yourself!