Monday Motivation: the heat is on

Last week the summer finally arrived and while we appreciate the heat when we’re on holiday, many found the conditions in the workplace to be unbearable. With the TUC calling for businesses to let staff wear casual clothes and work more flexible hours, we look at the legal and practical implications of high temperatures at work.

In the news, the launch of the government’s new tax-free childcare scheme has been delayed until 2017 and there are reports about what businesses want from the summer Budget.

Top news stories

Tax-free childcare delayed until 2017

The launch of the government’s new tax-free childcare scheme has been delayed until 2017 following a ruling by the Supreme Court.

What businesses want in the summer Budget

Two different pieces of research show the priorities for small businesses. The FSB found that tax reform was a key issue while our research shows that business rates and red tape are important.

Fraud costs UK SMEs billions per year

The average price of fraud to small companies is £3,450 annually.

Amazon rolls out small business loans to the UK

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UK is set for a strong 2015

The forecast looks good but the British Chambers of Commerce warns an interest rate rise is a huge risk.

Key dates for your diary

No significant dates this week.

Hot desking: what to do when the temperatures rise in the workplace

The summer finally arrived and we were sweltering in the workplace. As some people sit and wilt in suits and ties or have to work in overheated spaces, what can and should businesses do to help?

High temperatures and the law

This summer has seen record-breaking temperatures but historically in the UK we don’t get particularly hot summers. It may be that’s why there is a minimum temperature for workplaces but no maximum. The TUC said last year that there should be a maximum temperature of 30°C (or 27°C for strenuous work) but that is yet to be acted upon.

So does that mean you don’t have to do anything if workers complain? Not the case. The HSE says that if a percentage of employees complain, then you should conduct a “thermal comfort risk assessment”. The level of complaints is suggested to be:

  • More than 10% of employees in air-conditioned offices
  • More than 15% of employees in naturally ventilated offices
  • More than 20% of employees in retail businesses, warehouses, factories and other indoor environments that may not have air conditioning

As an employer, you need to ensure the health and safety of your workers. The HSE has advice on what to look for and how to address the issues.

The options for businesses

When temperatures hit 30°C, the Met Office and Public Health England begin issuing health warnings. If your office or working environment is at or near that temperature, your employees will thank you if you’re taking steps to make things more comfortable. Here are some options:

  • Make sure employees have access to sufficient supplies of drinking water and can access it when they want
  • Think about whether you can introduce a more flexible dress code. If you do, you may wish to specify what is acceptable - shorts and flip-flops might be a step too far.
  • Changing schedules may be a good option, especially if you have workers who do tasks in very hot locations such as greenhouses, conservatories or south-facing rooms.
  • Could your staff work in alternative locations? But do be aware that if you decamp the office to outside, there’s a risk of sunstroke and sunburn.
  • Introduce flexitime so people can work at cooler times of the day or take a longer lunch break.
  • Fridges not only chill drinks but also allow your employees to keep their food at a safe temperature.
  • See if you can hire mobile conditioning units if your rooms are too hot.
  • Look for ways to reduce the amount of effort for manual tasks (for example by providing lifting aids).
  • Ensure you have enough first aid supplies and your first aiders are familiar with the symptoms of heat exhaustion and sunstroke.
  • Maybe offer some ways to appreciate the weather. Anyone for an ice cream? 
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