As another heatwave looms in UK workplaces the Health and Safety Executive have issued new guidance to employers about their obligations to workers. It warns that the threat of climate change will mean employers need to plan now for more frequent periods of excessive heat. Referring to the recent excessive heat last month where temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius the HSE said:
adapting to climate change is something all businesses will need to consider as warmer weather becomes more frequent.
Employers have a legal obligation under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations to assess risks to the health and safety of workers. They must review the risk controls they have in place and update them if needed. This includes risks from more frequent extreme weather such as heatwaves.
While there is no maximum temperature for workplaces, all workers are entitled to an environment where risks to their health and safety are properly controlled. Heat is classed as a hazard and comes with legal obligations like any other hazard.
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations, which require employers to provide a reasonable temperature in the workplace.
The full HSE guidance, which is welcome, is available here. However, there is nothing ground-breaking in the guidance and, as the guidance itself says, there is no UK law (as their is in other jurisdictions) placing definable limits on upper limits to safe working. An employer should, says HSE, ensure there is a ‘reasonable’ working temperature. As way know from other areas of employment law what is reasonable is contentious matter and it is noteworthy that the guidance is framed so as to place the onus on workers to complain (i.e., enforce guidance individually and reactively).
The Guidance is however a good source for union representatives, and especially safety representatives. It can be used to raise with employers and look to secure collective agreements with employers and push for proactive risk assessments, including individual assessments that take account of particular vulnerabilities of individual workers.
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