Comfort Breaks

Summer Heat and Comfort Breaks

We all love the hot weather, don’t we? Sitting in our gardens, in the pub or the beach enjoying the sunshine with a cold drink in our hands. But, when it comes to working in the hot weather, it’s not quite the same experience is it? Working in a hot office with no air conditioning is dreadful, so you may be wondering if it’s okay to take comfort breaks.

As summer is now in full swing and we are experiencing heatwaves of up to 30 degrees it is important to keep employee’s health, safety and working conditions in top condition.

Are there any laws on working in the heat?

To put it simply, there’s no law for minimum or maximum working temperatures, i.e., when it’s too cold or too hot to work. However, guidance suggests a minimum of 16ºC or 13ºC if employees are doing physical work. There’s no guidance for a maximum temperature limit.

However, employers must stick to health and safety at work law, including:

  • keeping the temperature at a comfortable level
  • providing clean and fresh air

In addition to the Workplace Regulations, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees and take action where necessary and where reasonably practicable.

Here at Wurkplace, we can provide an adverse weather risk assessment.

6 basic factors that cause discomfort

There are six basic factors which usually cause discomfort within the workplace. These are:

  • Air temperature
  • Radiant temperature
  • Air velocity
  • Humidity
  • Clothing Insulation
  • Metabolic heat

Employees should talk to their employer if the workplace temperature isn’t comfortable and work together to make suitable arrangements.

Can I leave my workplace if it becomes too hot?

You can technically only leave your workplace if you become ill in the heat and take sick leave. However, The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 places a legal obligation on employers to provide a “reasonable” working temperature in the office. Your employer has a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in the particular circumstances. This means that as an employer they should be monitoring the heat and ensuring that the workplace doesn’t become too hot that employees feel as if they need to leave.

Uniform and working in heat

Wearing a full suit and tie can be uncomfortable anyway let alone in sweltering temperatures! However, if your company has a dress code policy, employers could potentially discipline or send home staff who refuse to follow the company dress code, provided they follow proper procedures.

This means that if it is your company’s policy to wear a suit and tie or even a uniform then you should stick to this policy.

However, it is greatly advised that employers seek flexibility and take a more productive approach when we are faced with adverse weather not only to keep the workforce happy but also to limit the possibility of employees becoming ill or working less productively. The Trade Unions Congress (TUC) recommends employers temporarily relax dress codes so that staff can be as comfortable as possible.

Can I take extra breaks when it is hot?

There is no straight answer to this one and it is primarily down to the employer. However, it is recommended that short frequent comfort breaks should be taken when working in hot weather. This can be a quick break getting a glass of water or an ice-cream or just getting some fresh air in the shade. If you are feeling ill or over-heating, then speak with your boss and request a short break.

This will not only cool you down and make the working day more bearable, but it will actually improve productivity by taking yourself away from you work area and cooling yourself down.

However, make sure comfort breaks are in moderation and approved – don’t disappear for hours or this could be classed as AWOL!

Working outside

Working in the heat can have a detrimental impact on employee’s health and also productivity. However, there are ways that employers can manage this:

  • reschedule work to cooler times of the day
  • provide more frequent comfort breaks and introduce shading to rest areas
  • 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 workers about recognising the early symptoms of heat stress

Overall, the employer does have a duty of care to their employees, and they should talk to their employees to obtain their feelings and recommendations as to how they can best manage working in the heat. Complete all of your risk assessments. Relax your dress codes where applicable. Take regular short breaks at the discretion of the employer. But most importantly, employers should remember that these are people who are facing extremely hot temperatures just like the employer and should be treated with respect and understanding. A free ice-cream wouldn’t hurt either!

If you need help with figuring out your employee or director contracts, give us a call on 0330 400 5940, or contact us via our quick online form.

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