Stay safe in the heat

Unite renews call for maximum working temperature

Reading time: 3 min

This week the Met Office has issued a yellow heat health alert for most of England, leaving many workers asking what their rights are when working in extreme temperatures.

Unite has been calling for the introduction of a maximum working temperature for some time and says workers need clarity as heatwaves become more common.

Unite national health and safety adviser Rob Miguel said, “Unite is pressing for a maximum temperature for safe working of 27 degrees Celsius for strenuous jobs and 30 degrees Celsius for sedentary jobs, and a trigger of 24 degrees Celsius where action should be taken to reduce temperatures indoors and strict protection measures put in place for outdoor workers.

“As the climate changes, it is vital that health and safety law is updated in line with the serious challenges this presents for workers. We urge the incoming government to move with this on as a priority so that there can be no ambiguities in the workplace. 

“In the meantime, employers have a legal and moral duty to ensure workers’ health is not damaged during the current hot weather. 

“Employers should be increasing the frequency and length of rest periods, while also ensuring that workers have free access to cool drinking water at all times.”

The TUC has issued a guide for reps outlining what employers can do to make sure their workers stay safe and cool in high temperatures, including fitting windows that can be opened, installing fans, moving staff away from windows or sources of heat or installing ventilation or air-cooling.

Unite’s health and safety reps advise employers and workers that:

  • Indoor workplaces should be adequately ventilated so they remove and dilute warm and humid air
  • Manual workers who work outside or in confined conditions are at particular risk and are vulnerable to heat exhaustion, employers should consider rescheduling work at cooler times of the day and provide cooling area’s such as shade or air-conditioned rest rooms
  • Where workers are operating in direct sunlight, employers should attempt to place a cover over the work area.
  • Halt work altogether under extreme conditions

Unite’s “Temperature at Work” Health and Safety guidance for workplace reps is available here.

By Keith Hatch