Managing high temperatures at work
When summer is just around the corner, employers have a duty to ensure people are comfortable at work.
Workplaces are required, by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, to ensure people have ‘thermal comfort’ as far as is reasonably practicable. This means doing what is possible to make sure employees do not feel too hot or too cold.
In workplaces such as offices, the temperature should normally be at least 16°C. If work involves physical effort it should be at least 13°C, according to the Health and Safety Executive. However, if temperatures start to soar above those levels, the HSE says this, as well as cold temperatures, can risk the health of workers.
If people are struggling to stay cool and are heating up more than usual, if there is more pollen and airborne dry dust around and the sun is beating down, the potential health risks include overheating, dehydration, sunburn, asthma and hay fever.
With reduced productivity the other significant issue that can accompany uncomfortable temperatures, it makes sense for organisations to support employees with a range of measures:
Personal air cooling
Allowing people to determine their own ‘thermal comfort’ is easier if workplaces supply individual fans for people to operate when needed. This is an effective solution when air-conditioning isn’t available, or if there are mixed views about when to switch it on.
Heat and light
It can be environmentally friendlier to open windows to let cool air flow in, rather than switch the air con on. With some blinds lowered to stop the sun from streaming in, temperatures can often be managed.
Anti-glare filters on laptops and desktop monitors will help people to see screens more easily if sun is shining into offices. These include frameless filters that are easy to apply and can reduce glare and reflections.
Facial tissues, hand wipes and disinfectant wipes will be useful to everyone who finds themselves hotter than usual in the workplace. These should be left out in communal work areas and in washrooms for people to use as required.
It is not unusual for workplaces to have showers, which could be used more frequently on hotter days especially if staff have walked or cycled to work. Organisations can help make these workable for those who need them by providing sufficient quantities of shower gels and shampoos.
For employees who are required to work outdoors, supplying sunscreen is a wise move. It is recommended this is at least Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30, which means that the product will stop 95-97% of UVB rays and allow 30 times longer in the sun before burning than without it.
Guard against allergies
Air-borne allergens can increase in summer, when allergy triggers can include pollen, dust mites and air that may be too dry or too humid. Hay fever, asthma and other conditions can become a greater problem for many people during these months.
By ensuring regular cleaning of offices, including wiping all hard surfaces to remove dust and pollen, using vacuums with A rated filtration systems to trap and retain up to 99.9% of dust emissions, and using air purifiers that remove 99.97% of airborne pollutants, employers will be doing their best to reduce the potential ill-health effects of the warmer summer months.
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