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Coping with heat in the workplace

21 February 2023

AS THE UK experiences one of its hottest summers on record, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is encouraging employers and employees to take simple, sensible steps to adapt to working in the heat.

In many cases, it’s easier to warm up people who work indoors than it is to cool them down, so individuals should play their part in keeping cool and drinking enough water.

While there are minimum legal temperatures for indoor workers in HSE guidance (13⁰C for physical work, 16⁰C for other staff), no guidance or regulations in the UK stipulate a maximum temperature. 

So, how hot is too hot for indoor workers? 

In many ways, this is down to personal preference, or even individuals’ biological responses. An environment that is too hot for one person may be just right for another. We can also learn a lot from good practices in hotter countries.

If a working environment is too warm, for instance, if it is around 30⁰C or higher, this can impact on the health and wellbeing of employees. Risks include dehydration and heatstroke.

Often heatstroke occurs because people don’t realise how much water their body is losing and they aren’t replacing it through drinking. The body will sweat less and people will experience headaches and won’t be able to concentrate as well.

The possible impairments such environments cause to people’s cognitive functions can give rise to safety risks, especially in jobs involving operating machinery.

Ways to keep your cool

There are many actions staff can and should take themselves to adapt to heat:

  • wear appropriate, light, loose-fitting clothing
  • drink lots of water to stay hydrated
  • take regular breaks
  • move to cooler parts of the workplace, if possible

Employers have a duty of care too – and it is in everyone’s interest for staff to be healthy and productive in their workplaces. Some ideas for employers to consider are:

  • to relax formal dress codes if these are likely to cause discomfort 
  • allow regular breaks
  • changing shift times if possible so people can work at cooler times of the day
  • locate desks away from direct sunlight 
  • when it’s really strong, blinds and windows may need to be kept closed
  • air conditioning and fans could be provided to help keep workplaces cool, but these need to be used properly.