May 30, 2013

A H&S Guide to Working in Hot Weather

As we move into June following one of the worst winters for decades, let’s be positive and look forward to summer.

While it may seem like warmer weather will never make its way to Blighty, remember back to last summer and of the occasional times when we get a week or more of really warm (dare we say it – even hot!) weather.

By the third day of the so-called heat wave, you start to hear mutterings amongst your staff: ‘Its boiling in here, isn’t it about time we got air conditioning?’ ‘It’s against health and safety to work in this temperature!’

Whilst there is a specific temperature quoted in the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations that workrooms should normally be at least 16º Celsius, there is no upper limit quoted.

Regulation 7 deals specifically with the temperature in indoor workplaces and states that:

‘During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.’

The associated ACOP (Approved Code of Practice) goes on to explain:

‘The temperature in workrooms should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing. Where such a temperature is impractical because of hot or cold processes, all reasonable steps should be taken to achieve a temperature which is as close as possible to comfortable. ‘Workroom’ means a room where people normally work for more than short periods.

The temperature in workrooms should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius unless much of the work involves severe physical effort in which case the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius. These temperatures may not, however, ensure reasonable comfort, depending on other factors such as air movement and relative humidity.’

One person’s hot can be another person’s cold (and, as Sod’s law would have it, they’re often sat next to each other!).

Air conditioning can be expensive to install and maintain, so how do we address this problem?

Health & safety advice to reduce the stress from working in hot weather:

  • Provide electric fans to move air around the room
  • Provide portable air conditioning units. But bear in mind that sometimes, due to having an open window for the hose, this will reduce the effectiveness
  • Provide cold water water dispensers
  • Fit solar reflective coating films to windows. These are low cost and very effective
  • Fit low energy light bulbs

All the above necessitate some expenditure, with the possible hire or purchase of air conditioning units the most expensive.

Low cost remedies can invikves the following:

  •  Allowing frequent breaks at the hotter times of the day
  • Varying working hours, e.g. allowing an early start
  • Relaxing the dress code, e.g. allowing shorts
  • Switching off lights if natural light levels allow this
  • Keeping computers and copiers on standby or, if possible, switched off to prevent heat build-up
  • If possible, leaving windows open at night or opening them early in the morning to allow cooler air in
  • Recognising heat stress in your employees and acting quickly
  • If working outside then you need to be aware that being outdoors for a long time leaves your skin exposed to an unhealthy level of sunlight. People need to take more care if they have:
  • Fair or freckled skin that doesn’t tan, or goes red or burns before it tans
  • Red or fair hair and light coloured eyes
  • A large number of moles

To reduce the risk:

  • Reschedule work to cooler times of the day if possible
  • Provide more frequent rest breaks and advise your employees to sit in shaded areas during breaks
  • Provide free access to cool drinking water
  • Introduce shading in areas where individuals are working
  • Encourage the removal of personal protective equipment when resting to help encourage heat loss
  • Educate employees about recognising the early symptoms of heat stress

It’s also recommended that you encourage awareness amongst employees of the risks of working in hot weather by advising on the following steps they can take to protect themselves: 

  • Keeping your top on; clothing made from close woven fabric, is better
  • Wearing a hat with a brim or a flap that covers the ears and especially the back of the neck
  • Staying in the shade whenever possible, during your breaks and especially at lunch time
  • Using a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF15 on any exposed skin
  • Drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • Checking your skin regularly for any unusual moles or spots. See a doctor promptly if you find anything that is changing in shape, size, colour, or itching or bleeding

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