June 27, 2018

Safe Working Advice for Managing Outdoor Staff During a Heatwave

With temperatures across the country hitting 30 degrees plus over the week ahead employers will need to make sure they are protecting outdoor workers sweating it out in the summer heat.

The Met Office has issued a warning that there is an 80% probability of heatwave conditions between 9am today (26 June) and 6pm on Thursday (28 June) in some parts of England.

“As warmer air from the continent moves towards the UK from Wednesday, temperatures will climb into the mid to high 20s quite widely, even in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland,” said Chief Meteorologist, Frank Saunders.

“By this stage, some places in England and Wales will very likely top 30 Celsius – it’s not unlikely somewhere could reach 32 Celsius. With almost wall-to-wall sunshine we’ll certainly be looking at conditions which many of us would call a heatwave.”

The TUC has also issued a safety warning, and called for bosses to ensure workers have plenty of water and breaks, and warned “workers like builders, agricultural workers and gardeners who are outside for lengthy periods in high temperatures are at risk of sunstroke, sunburn and even skin cancer”.

They also note that working in hot weather can lead to dehydration, tiredness, muscle cramps, rashes, fainting, and loss of consciousness in the most extreme cases.

With this in mind, here’s a quick rundown of health & safety advice to reduce the danger of working in hot weather.

Important considerations for outside workers

If you have people 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:

  • Keep your top on – clothing made from close woven fabric is better
  • Wear a hat with a brim or a flap that covers the ears and especially the back of the neck
  • Stay in the shade whenever possible, during your breaks and especially at lunch time
  • Use a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF15 on any exposed skin
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • Check 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

As well as the risks posed by working directly outside, employers should also consider the risks when they are inside too:

  • Provide electric fans to move air around rooms
  • 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 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 involve:

  • 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

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About the author

Philip Barker

Philip has worked for Moorepay for over nine years, starting as a Health & Safety Consultant in February 2008 before taking up the position of Consultancy Manager in January 2015. Coming from a retail background, both as a store manager and health & safety professional, he already had a good cross industry experience. Working at Moorepay has provided an opportunity to broaden both knowledge and experience across a wide range of industry sectors. Philip started his health & safety career after a number of years managing retail stores and holds a HNC in Environmental Health Studies, a Diploma in Environmental Policy and a NEBOSH Diploma.