How to Prevent Office Tensions When the Heat Soars
- AuthorNatasha Johnston
The sight of people wilting under fans and going about their daily lives in shorts and sandals is a rarity in Britain – we are more used to being buffeted by the wind and rain during our daily commute.
But as temperatures soar, we are facing some less common workplace issues – how to be productive when the office temperature rises.
From a legal standpoint rules around temperatures in the indoor workplace are covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
The Regulations provide guidance to employers to provide a reasonable temperature in the workplace, but while there is a suggested minimum working temperature – of at least 13-16C dependent upon the duties an employee undertakes - there is no statutory upper limit. Instead, an employer has a duty to determine what constitutes reasonable comfort in the given circumstances.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says a meaningful figure cannot be given at the upper end of the scale because of the necessarily high temperatures found in, for example, glass works or foundries. In these environments, it is still possible to work safely as long as appropriate controls are in place.
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.
Most employers understand, of course, that providing comfortable workplace conditions is essential for the smooth running of their business and for the welfare of their employees and colleagues, and it isn't just the legalities of this issue that they will be considered during the current heatwave.
Here are some things you might want to do, to help people keep their cool as the mercury soars:
- Relax your dress code – If you usually insist on a formal dress code it makes sense to relax this during scorching weather. You may not want customer-facing staff to pad about in beach shorts and flip-flops, but short sleeves, simple cotton dresses or smart shorts are acceptable to most people
- Make sure water is freely available- many offices will have a water cooler, however, if you have outdoor workers you may want to stock up on bottled water and ensure it is taken to sites for staff to stay hydrated in the hot weather
- Do an ice cream run. The office dieters might not thank you, but needs must under extreme circumstances!
- Temporarily alter working hours. Most people will be more productive in the early morning before the ambient temperature creeps up as the day progresses, this can be of particular relevance where the use of PPE means dress codes cannot be relaxed. Can some of your teams alter their start and finish times to work when the sun is not at its strongest?
- At the moment due to the pandemic, you will need to risk assess the use of fans and portable air conditioning units if your staff are in an open-plan or shared office environment
- Clearly, many people have jobs outdoors, and it is even more important to consider their working conditions during a heatwave – so wearing appropriate protective clothing, sunscreen, head coverings and staying very well hydrated is crucial
- Another very important factor for all employers under these circumstances is communication. Ask your staff if they are comfortable and what you can do to help
Many of you will have staff working from home. You can encourage them to manage the heat by reminding them to:
- Wear light and airy dress
- Ventilate (open windows if the air outside is cooler than inside)
- Take regular breaks
- Work during cooler time if hours are flexible
- Work in the shade
- Keep hydrated by taking regular sips of water
- Use a cool flannel on the back of the neck, or wrists
- Turn off any unnecessary devices such as laptops which generate heat
An integral part of the HR Services team, Natasha Johnston provides outsourced HR support and ongoing advice and guidance to the firm's business clients. The service offers a tailored solution to suit the client; from full outsourced HR to a simple and low-cost monthly mentoring service.