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How to keep employees cool

09 July 2018

THE WEATHER in Britain can often be unpredictable and on the rare occasion of a heatwave, high temperatures can pose particular risks for employers. Clare Porciani offers advice into handling a heatwave.

Organisations should prepare ahead of the summer season by taking steps to ensure staff are equipped for the hot weather in terms of workplace environment, working methods, equipment and clothing.

Whilst the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 do not specify a maximum safe working temperature, Regulation 7 does state however that employers must maintain a reasonable temperature. Therefore, it is essential that employers take responsibility by recognising the negative effects that hot weather can have on employee wellbeing and taking steps to counteract them.

In order to maintain a reasonable temperature in the workplace, employers should first carry out a risk assessment. This involves communicating with staff to gain an understanding of what, in their opinion, constitutes a comfortable working temperature. It’s important to note that what constitutes ‘comfortable’ for one person, does not necessarily for another and compromises must be made sometimes to find an ambient temperature that suits everyone.

When temperatures soar, employers should provide the necessary equipment to ensure that staff can keep cool. Ventilation is key during hot summer days, therefore making sure that the windows are kept open during working hours, keeping blinds closed and ensuring that workstations are not positioned in direct sunlight are simple ways to keep staff cool.

Where possible, employers should also invest in fans or air conditioning to keep temperatures in the office down. However, care should be taken to ensure that streams of cool from HVAC units are not directed at specific desks or groups of employees.

Staying hydrated is of extreme importance during the hot summer months, yet, one of the main reasons employees do not drink enough water is due to insufficient access. By providing a water cooler in the office, employers can help combat tiredness, irritability and support productivity. Similarly, outdoor workers should always be provided with water bottles to guarantee that they keep hydrated.

Another way businesses can keep staff cool is by relaxing the dress code. Encouraging employees to wear clothing that is casual and loose-fitting, whilst avoiding anything that might be inappropriate for the office, can help workers stay comfortable in the heat. For members of staff whose main job involves spending a large amount of time outside, employers should also aim to provide sun cream, hats and ensure adequate shade is available to protect them from the heat of the sun.

It is all too easy for the workforce to feel less engaged when it is good weather outside the office. Whilst there is no legal obligation for employers to do so, small measures such as providing ice lollies, cold drinks or summer snacks can lift spirits. Additionally, offering flexible work hours can also help to raise staff productivity.

From an HR perspective, employers should avoid jumping to conclusions if an employee calls in sick on a hot sunny day. A 2014 study published in Industrial Health confirmed that the warm weather does in fact increase the risk of sickness, especially sunstroke or hay fever. However, by carrying out a return to work interview, employees can identify any necessary changes that should be made to reduce sickness during a heatwave.

By taking steps to evaluate the working environment, equipment and clothing during the warmer months, employers can make sure their staff enjoy the perks of the hot weather without jeopardising productivity and wellbeing.

Clare Porciani is senior manager of HR operations at Office Depot UK & Ireland.