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When is it too hot to work? Employer obligations in the heat

15 July 2022 | Cecily Donoghue

The met office has issued an extreme heat weather warning for England and Wales until Tuesday next week which means there’s a risk of serious illness or death to the public. As the hot weather can make the working environment almost unbearable, we have outlined what the law says about employer obligations in the heat.

What’s the legal position in the workplace?

There’s no fixed temperatures that are too hot or cold for the workplace. However the minimum temperature should normally be at least 16’C (or 13’C if the job is mainly physical), but there is no maximum temperature set under law.

However an employer must still ensure that working environments are at a reasonable and safe temperature for staff.

Temperature considerations should always form part of the general health and safety risk assessments that all businesses should already have in place. Particular consideration should be given to those more vulnerable to heat stress (pregnant or new mothers, older or unwell staff, or those with physically demanding or outside roles).

Many businesses who work outdoors, near ovens / furnaces or manufacturing are familiar with heat risks, however in offices or similar environments, these concerns arise only rarely.

In an office environment the temperature must be reasonable and to the extent possible for the week ahead, employers should use any existing ventilation or air conditioning to maintain a reasonable temperature.

Encourage staff to talk to a manager if they are finding the work environment uncomfortable.

Government response:

A number of MPs on 11th July submitted a motion supporting the introduction of a legal upper limit to be set at 30’C for most workplaces, or 27’C for those in strenuous physical roles. However this has not taken forward by parliament as yet.

Actions to take:

What actions your business takes will depend on your particular circumstances. HSE recommends taking the following steps:

  • Allow staff to dress appropriately for the weather – remove jackets or relax any formal dress code / uniforms;
  • provide fans for staff and open windows where possible;
  • use existing ventilation and air conditioning units;
  • allow staff to work from home and/or to start earlier or later in the day where possible;
  • closing blinds / curtains and arranging for staff to work away from direct sunlight where possible; and
  • encouraging staff to drink plenty of water and take regular breaks to cool down.

If your staff work outside, you’ll need to take extra care to manage risks to their health:

  • consider rescheduling work to cooler times of the day
  • provide frequent rest breaks
  • provide shade in working and rest areas, along with cool drinking water,
  • encourage removal of PPE when resting,
  • encourage sun protection and educate workers about how to recognise heat stress.

Specialist employment law advice 

If you are an employer looking for further legal advice in relation to an employment issue, then our specialist employment team can assist you. Please get in touch by calling 0117 906 9400 or email Alternatively, please complete our contact form. 

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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