Too Hot to Handle: Working in a heatwave and how to prepare

Working in a heatwave
Hot weather can make work and travel unbearable and with record temperatures forecast throughout England and Wales this week, what are workers’ rights and how can employers prepare for working in a heatwave?


The Met Office’s highest warning covers an area including London, Manchester and York on Monday and Tuesday this week, with the hot weather set to continue throughout July.

Jas Dubb, Associate at The Wilkes Partnership considers the guidance on offer to assist employers, businesses and their staff in addressing the extreme heat and working in a heatwave.

How hot can a workplace be?

Unfortunately, there is currently no law in the UK which states any given temperature is too hot to work. While there is a minimum working temperature of (16°C in an office) there is no maximum figure to use. This is partly because some workplaces, such as kitchens, are hot all the time anyway.

The responsibility to make workplaces safe and healthy rests with employers. Employers need to keep the environment at an “acceptable” temperature for the thermal comfort of others (whether someone feels too hot or too cold). The GMB union said workers should not have to contend with temperatures any higher than 25°C, as forecasters predict a record high of 41°C in England.

Employers should relax dress codes during heatwaves and provide more water, breaks and sun cream (if necessary).  It should be treated that there is a moral duty to ensure workers’ health is not damaged during the current stifling weather. Manual workers may be particularly vulnerable. One way to help could be for employers to consider rescheduling work to cooler times of the day, and provide cooling areas such as shade or air-conditioned rest rooms. If workers show any signs of heat exhaustion, the employer should immediately ensure they stop work and are allowed to recover with ample resting time.

Disruption to Travel

There are a number of types of major disruptions that can prevent employees from getting to work. Weather being one of them.

Adverse weather conditions such as a heatwave can cause road closures and public transport delays or cancellations. Rail passengers in England and Wales have been urged to travel only if necessary on Monday and Tuesday. They have warned people could expect delays, cancellations and short notice changes to services as a result of the intense heat.

Businesses should be mindful of this and let office staff work from home or adjust their hours to avoid travelling in rush-hour.

Jas Dubb comments: “Hot work, either outdoors or indoors, can certainly increase the risk of accidents and injuries. Some employers see this as just an irritation over which they have no control, however all workers have the right to work in a safe and healthy environment and safety measures should be considered when working in a heatwave. The main priority is to keep all people safe and healthy with the hope that we all get to enjoy this unusual British weather (possibly with an ice cream in hand!).”

For any further guidance on this issue or any other employment related matter, please contact Jas Dubb or a member of the Employment Team at The Wilkes Partnership LLP. Alternatively email us at [email protected].

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