The famous saying continues, “get out of the kitchen“, but with no immediate halting of climate change, you could find that it won’t just be Chefs who struggle with temperature moderation.
The phrase’s origin is often attributed to US President Harry S. Truman. Its use is widely understood to act as a warning to anyone who may complain about a task or situation they’re struggling with, probably right up there now with “Man Up!” as an inappropriate term to use in the workplace.
But whilst we can stop using specific phrases, it would seem we’re unable to effect change to our climate with such ease, certainly in the short to medium term. Our average summer temperatures are rising, as are the frequency of heatwaves and some, notably in central and southern Europe, are brutal.
We can expect our temperatures to reach 30 degrees regularly or above in East Anglia, so what should we be doing to prepare for these spells and ensure staff are comfortable and not walking out en masse.
At the heart of the matter is your responsibility as an employer to ensure the working conditions for employees are reasonable, managed and not uncomfortable, indeed not dangerous.
You should be aware of the needs of your staff and their vulnerabilities, including medical conditions that can be exacerbated by heat or high humidity.
The NHS highlight:
- Older workers or volunteers are typically over 75 years.
- Pregnant women.
- Those who have a severe or long-term illness – including heart or lung conditions, diabetes, kidney disease, Parkinson’s disease or certain respiratory conditions
- Those who may find it hard to keep cool are those with drug or alcohol addictions or with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Employees may be exposed to intense heat by working outside.
- Women who are experiencing menopause symptoms.
The WFH Factor
One area that employees need not overlook is the environment of homeworkers. Ventilation, air conditioning or fans and access to cold water should be checklist applied in an office/ factory and the remote worker’s workplace. Being at home can have advantages, but if the employee lives on a busy street, opening a window may not be practical due to pollution from fumes and noise.
The Goldilocks Effect
Health and safety guidelines set a precise minimum heat level in the workplace in the UK. This is 16 degrees, and an employer should ensure they can deliver an environment that is no cooler than that.
At the upper end, there is no guide temperature. Any of us who work in open-plan offices will testify to the disparity between workers’ preferences on what’s hot and what’s cold and what’s just right. The Goldilocks Effect or Principle can cause friction if not handled sympathetically.
Health and Safety Executive Guidelines
Minimum workplace temperature
The Approved Code of Practice suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should usually be at least 16 degrees Celsius. If the work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius. These temperatures are not absolute legal requirements; the employer must determine what reasonable comfort will be in the circumstances.
Higher workplace temperatures
An influential figure cannot be given at the upper end of the scale due to the high temperatures found in, for example, glass works or foundries. It is still possible to work safely in such environments, provided appropriate controls are present. Factors other than the air temperature, i.e. radiant temperature, humidity and air velocity, become more significant and the interaction between them becomes more complex with rising temperatures.
Cool Dress Code
If there’s a forecast heatwave, it makes practical sense to permit staff to dress more accommodatingly if it stays within an appropriate level of modesty and appropriateness. With the current cost of energy, it might not be seen as a priority to install air conditioning units, but if the building is” oven-like” thanks to the fabrication, such as a corrugated roof, abundance of glass with little shade etc., the employer may be minded to consider investing in systems that can cool the atmosphere for workers.
Adjusting the Working Day
The working day starts earlier in many countries that frequently experience high temperatures. It accommodates a lengthy break over a lunch period, with workers returning to complete their day when it’s cooler. That may not always be practicable, but if you can adjust the working day to avoid peaks, we recommend it. Be mindful of fairness, avoid discriminating against any specific worker or group and be as flexible as possible.
On more than one occasion, we’ve organised “ice cream and lolly” runs to the local stores to help cool things down and making sure there’s a ready supply of ice cold water would also be an essential requirement.
Keep an eye on staff and ensure no one is suffering from the higher temperatures.
If you need to update your workplace health and safety policies, including dealing with extreme weather, please call or email me for an informal chat.