Summer is on its way-are you prepared?

Although it doesn’t feel like it as I sit here wearing my winter coat in the office, Summer is on its way…(apparently) . Is your office/work space ready for the heat that we get (promised) each year? Here are a few tips to get you and your workplace “Summer Ready.”

Is the office temperature at the right level?

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 says that the office/workplace must maintain a reasonable temperature, but it does not specify a maximum temperature.

There is a minimum temperature of 16°C, or 13°C if your work involves considerable physical activity. However, as an employer it is expected to prevent your workplace being uncomfortably hot. There should also be enough thermometers around the workplace so that you can check the temperature.

But whatever thermometers read, if most people are complaining of the heat, common sense says that it is too hot and something must be done immediately. Remember that how we respond to heat can also depend on the weight and age of a person.

You should also remember that air temperature is only a rough guide because humidity, wind speed, radiant heat sources, clothing, etc. all have an effect, which an ordinary thermometer will not take into account. It is possible to get a more accurate assessment using specialist equipment such as a wet bulb global thermometer or electronic equivalent, which measures humidity. The comfort range for humidity is between 40% and 70%.

The office windows don’t open, what should we do as employers about the temperature?

You (as mentioned) are expected to prevent your workplace being uncomfortably hot. There are many steps which you can take to assess risk and provide more comfortable working during hot weather. These include:

  • providing adequate ventilation and fans (although above 27°C, fans are ineffective at cooling the air);
  • providing portable air cooling cabinets, which may reduce the air temperature by up to 6°C;
  • providing properly designed ventilation – air conditioning will be most effective – and ensuring it is properly maintained so it does not break down in the middle of a heat wave;
  • reducing heat gain via windows by reflective film or blinds and by reducing the window area, and moving desks and workstations away from windows; and
  • allowing staff to dress appropriately for hot weather, e.g. allowing ties, tights or jackets to be removed or shorts to be worn.

If it is impossible to provide a comfortable air temperature, or as a temporary measure until a permanent solution is put in place, employers can reduce staff exposure to hot work. This can be done through frequent rest breaks in a cool area where cold drinks are provided, job rotation or altering work during the hottest part of the day.

 Should you provide drinking water during the hot months?

Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 say that an adequate supply of wholesome drinking water should be provided for everyone in the workplace, regardless of whether the weather is hot or not. It also says the employer has to provide cups, unless it is a drinking jet. In the case of non-disposable cups, a facility for washing them should be provided nearby.

Even if you are working outdoors you have a right to drinking water. Water should only be provided in refillable containers where it cannot be obtained directly from a mains supply. Such containers should be suitably enclosed to prevent contamination, and should be refilled at least daily.

If you have a drinks dispenser make sure that it is regularly cleaned and tested for contamination, as they can easily become breeding grounds for bacteria. If your water cooler is supplied through renewable plastic bottles, be sure that whoever replaces them has had manual handling training, as the bottles can weigh up to 20kg.

Are your staff allowed to work outside all day?

Outdoor workers exposed to high temperatures and the sun for long periods are at risk of sunstroke, sunburn and heat exhaustion. Sunstroke or heatstroke is more likely when heavy physical work is being done.

To avoid these effects:

  • working hours should be kept short;
  • clothing, including protective clothing, should not be tight and restricting, and should allow body heat to escape;
  • plenty of rest periods in a cool place should be taken; and
  • cool, clean water should be provided for frequent drinks. It is important to replace water lost through sweating.

Exposure to excessive sunlight can cause skin rashes or skin burns. Ultraviolet radiation in sunlight can also cause skin cancer. Fair-skinned people who do not develop a suntan quickly, are most at risk. Avoid excessive exposure to sun by covering bare skin with lightweight material and taking frequent rest breaks in the shade. Sun protection creams may also help.

Fingers crossed we do need to think about the above for longer than just one day this year…..

Sources to include TUC